Learning Bad Habits

Microsoft is hot on the trail of protecting you from yourself. There are a litany of security precautions being added to popular applications, these are introducing additional confirmation steps before a requested action can take place. One example is when you attempt to install a new program on Windows Vista and there is a succession of confirmations. Do you want to open this file? Do you want to allow this program to run? Every option has the default setting marked to abort the desired operation, so you quickly learn to pick the non-default buttons when performing this kind of task.

As a result, this has the side-effect of training you to adopt new bad habits. An excellent example is the revised IE7 certificate validation screen for SSL, this now uses a large red shield to indicate that you should not proceed but prefers to label the action “Continue to this website”.

IE7 Security Error

This is training you that a negative onscreen selection in fact denotes a positive action to continue. So only by selecting the negative button are you able to complete your task. Most people seem to hit the green “Click here to close the webpage” option a few times but then quickly gravitate to the big red “X”.

What do you think the right reaction would be to the following?

Stop All Directions

“Challenging our assumptions about the actions we are taking is a good thing, but associating these with negative symbols will inevitably teach us to ignore the decisions.”As you might imagine, the red icon now equates to a positive action. Having used the red icon repeatedly to connect to sites with SSL certificates that I trust, the red security icon is something used when the action is affirmative. So does Stop mean Go? Fortunately, in this example, the Stop sign has been augmented with sufficient additional information that it is impossible for me to continue in any direction.

All of these precautions are suppose to train us to rethink critical decisions as they relate to our computer programs and document content. Challenging our assumptions about the actions we are taking is a good thing, but associating these with negative symbols will inevitably teach us to ignore the decisions and proceed blithely through warning signs when we should not be.