The Capacitive Button Cult Must Be Stopped

In an essay titled «The Capacitive Button Cult Must Be Stopped», Jon Bell writes:

A capacitive button has no place on a phone, and the people who are pushing it into the marketplace are over-fetishizing visual design to the detriment of the overall experience.

I completely agree. I complained about this when I wrote about the Samsung Omnia 7:

The capacitive buttons are a really, really bad idea. Seriously, I thought we had all agreed not to do that around 2003. It’s such an obviously bad idea that it’s hard to imagine how it found its way into the final product. Did they never play a game in landscape mode, and accidentally back out of the whole game by merely holding the device wrong?

But it’s not just a problem on phones. My stove has touch buttons,1 which means it starts beeping (and sometimes even activates the «child safety function», which essentially makes it impossible to operate the stove at all) whenever something brushes against the buttons. This happens frequently, because it’s easy to place a pan or a piece of fruit or even just a spoon so it accidentally touches one of the buttons.

I think phones have capacitive buttons for the same reason laptops have reflective screens, and TVs in stores have their brightness and contrast turned all the way up. It looks really cool when you see it in a store, and you don’t notice how screwed up it really is until after you’ve already bought it.2


  1. Technically, they might not be capacitive buttons, but use a different type of touch sensor. back

  2. Commenters on Hacker News bring up another reason: capacitive buttons probably have a lower failure rate than «real» buttons. So they might be a cost-cutting measure. back

If you require a short url to link to this article, please use http://ignco.de/389

designed_for_use_small

If you liked this, you'll love my book. It's called Designed for Use: Create Usable Interfaces for Applications and the Web. In it, I cover the whole design process, from user research and sketching to usability tests and A/B testing. But I don't just explain techniques, I also talk about concepts like discoverability, when and how to use animations, what we can learn from video games, and much more.

You can find out more about it (and order it directly, printed or as a DRM-free ebook) on the Pragmatic Programmers website. It's been translated to Chinese and Japanese.