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Preface to the GUI Design Handbook
Checkbox to Cursor
Dialog Box to Drop-down List
Graph to Iconic Label
Keyboard Shortcuts to List Box
Menubar to Message Box
Online Help
Palette to Pushbutton
Radio Buttons to Status Bar
Table to Wizard

14 Steps of GUI Design
Color & Pattern
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The GUI Design Handbook by Susan Fowler and Victor StanwickThe GUI Design Handbook

by Susan Fowler and Victor Stanwick

Originally published by McGraw-Hill, 1998, ISBN 0-07-059274-8.
Copyright 2001 by Susan Fowler and Victor Stanwick, Staten Island.
All rights reserved.

Notes for the 2008 Update

This version of the GUI Design Handbook has been reformatted to fit our new website. Although some pages refer to old software and operating systems, we think that much of the advice--about how to write messages, for example, and how to lay out pushbuttons--is still valid and that some readers might miss it if we didn't put it back up.

However, we have not edited or updated the files (although we fixed a few small mistakes as we came across them), simply because rewriting a 318-page book is very hard to do.

Note that the files are larger in this version than they used to be and may take longer to load. Also, the quality-assurance testing is not up to our usual standards (sorry). If have a question not addressed here, or if something really bothers you, write to us at susan -at-

--Susan and Victor

Preface to the web edition

When McGraw-Hill let the GUI Design Handbook go out of print this year, we saw their action as an opportunity to make the book available to a much wider audience. Please send us comments, questions, and requests for more information. We're delighted to hear from you and find out what you think about the book.

—Susan Fowler and Victor Stanwick, 20 August 2001

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Preface to the first edition

This book is our answer to the friends and colleagues who read our first book, The GUI Style Guide, and said, "Wow! This is great! Lots of information! But do I have to read it all? Can’t you just tell me how to do an icon? A check box? A message?"

Yes, as it turns out, we can write a book that you don’t have to read. This book, The GUI Design Handbook, is a list of common GUI components in alphabetical order. It works like most programming guides: You look up the component that you’re interested in, and we supply a definition, guidelines, usability tests, and pointers to similar components.

Each description of a component has these sections:

  • Good For: This section explains what the component is and what it’s used for (as well as what it’s not used for, if that’s pertinent).
  • Design Guidelines: The guidelines attempt to cover all of the sore points and questions identified during our work with developers over the years. They have been culled from experience, e-mail conversations about usability, and printed sources.
  • Usability Tests: This section describes the types of usability tests that tell you whether you’ve chosen the right component and whether you’ve avoided the pitfalls known to be associated with that component.
  • See Also: Since many GUI components have overlapping functionality, you may have a choice of components. This section points you to other likely candidates.

Seeming duplicates

Because we concentrate on functionality, we’ve broken certain components into parts that might strike you as odd at first. For example, you’ll find three types of dialog boxes, three types of fields, two types of list boxes, and three types of online help. The reason is that each type is used differently. Therefore, each different type has its own section.

Synonyms and similarities

If the component you are looking for does not appear in the main body of the book, check the index. We’ve tried to list all synonyms for various components there.

Also, if you’re looking for a particular function but don’t know which component might embody that function, check components’ "Good For" and "See Also" sections as well as the index. We’ve tried to cross-reference functions and components wherever possible.


No book is written only by its authors, and this one is no exception. We would like to thank the readers of our earlier book, The GUI Style Guide, who offered so much useful criticism as well as encouragement. We are especially grateful to Stuart Burnfield, one of our Australian readers. Also important to the genesis of this and the earlier book were our colleagues at CFI ProServices, ComWare Systems, EJV Partners, J.P. Morgan, Reuters Analytic Group, Small Computer Company, and many other companies. They taught us most of what we know about software development and management.

We would also like to thank two reviewers, Steven Feldberg, New Jersey, and Chauncey Wilson, Massachusetts. Their close readings, and Chauncey's additions to the dialog box sections, have made what you hold in your hands much better than the draft that they saw. Any remaining mistakes are all ours. Thanks also to Jeff Rubin, The Usability Connection, and Donna Timpone, UserEdge, Inc.

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