17 July 2009

The quest for The Ultimate Button (not the sort you wear, the sort you click)

A friend of mine, who may be found under the guise of @LovelyButtons on Twitter, is desperately seeking The Ultimate Button - or set of. As I have known this friend for many years (more than 20, actually), I have decided to do my best to help her in her quest. These (click) rather sleek-looking Apple Mac keyboard buttons are some of @LovelyButtons' most wanted, but are they really The Ultimate Buttons? Hmmm.

It all started with cash registers. As a child, @LovelyButtons had grand aspirations of becoming a shop assistant one day, so she could take charge of one of these glorious button machines. As it happened, @LovelyButtons turned out to be something of a maths whizz and is currently en route to a career as an accountant. This is not surprising - I suspect it might not be unrelated to her love of calculator buttons, in fact.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, the best part of last night was spent drawing up plans for a fantastic button experiment, which would determine once and for all the nature of The Ultimate Button. Of course, what with me being of a scientific mind, it couldn't just be a simple "Do you like this button? No? What about this one?" type of experiment...

We have so far determined a number of possible variables that could be important in button pressability:
  • Surface feel/material e.g. plastic, rubbery
  • Surface shape e.g. concave, flat
  • Force required to completely depress button
  • Height of button
  • Button-pressing noise
  • Button use history/current status of presser e.g. have they always used/are they currently using a keyboard with outrageously clicky buttons?
We've explored the possibilities for measuring button-pressing noise (microphone and soundwave analysis) and force required to depress button. The latter, we think, requires something resembling a school newton or force meter. These come in a rather fetching array of colours (as below), although if you wanted a really top notch piece of equipment, it's surprising how much you could pay.

@LovelyButtons was content to be the chief button presser in all of this, but, sticking to my scientific guns, I pointed out that we would need a fairly large sample size if we were going to create some half-decent graphs. The only problem being, of course, that all of these button pressers could have different button use histories - we would have to segment the population into plastic button users, rubber button users, and so on...

Finally it dawned on us that all of this button pressing experimentation was going to take years of work and at the end of it what would we have gained? Even if you were presented with a button purporting to be The Ultimate Button, I asked @LovelyButtons, how would you truly know that it was? Mmm? Wouldn't you wonder if, somewhere out there, a better button existed?

And yet again, here I am posting useless rubbish when I probably should be doing something far more important. But if anyone does happen to have any button-depressing measurement-type equipment, or the patience to carry out several years worth of scientific experiments involving keyboards, do let me know. Or maybe you'd like to post pictures of your favourite buttons below. Probably just as useful.


Leila said...

There was a guy at Cheltenham Science Festival who was all about button ergonomics and had lots of sky remotes stuck to his stand...


Hayley said...

You're joking? How can we find this man? And I was THERE...

Anonymous said...

I think the rainbow of solid-looking matte buttons on the backs of (some) council refuse vans are surprisingly attractive. There seem to be more buttons than I'd have thought you need, and quite aesthetically presented.

Jo :)