Avoiding "Blank Page Syndrome"

One thing I dislike about classic WIMP GUI applications is the way they typically present you with a blank page at startup. Here's what Word 2003 looks like just after I launch it:

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2005/10/avoiding-blank-page-syndrome.html

Second example: Apple’s Pages word processor has templates that are filled in with Lorem Ipsum text when you open a new document. (The filler disappears as soon as you click on a text block to move the insertion point to it.)

a href="http://www.apple.com/iwork/pages/"http://www.apple.com/iwork/pages//a

More on the subject of whether showing users example usage of your app is a good idea:
a href="http://blogs.msdn.com/chris_pratley/archive/2005/09/02/459847.aspx"http://blogs.msdn.com/chris_pratley/archive/2005/09/02/459847.aspx/a
It’s not as clearcut as one may think.

Granted, this is coming from a more advanced user, but that is something that needs to be kept in mind as well.

That’s probably why you and I both turn on the “Empty Environment” in the startup options for VS.NET 2003 and 2005.

But note that both versions DO use a startup page which offers some hints on what to do. Furthermore, they make this hint page the default. They do not default to a blank slate post install.

And I think that’s a great strategy. If you want to start with a blank slate, allow the user to turn it on, but it’s a bad idea to make that the default for your app.

Kartik, that’s a great link. Thank you for that. A few comments…

The sample notebook has really helped reduce confusion, although we can still get a lot better in this area. Sometimes too much flexibility can be a problem and people can use some guidance.

So in essence their testing bears this out, but you have to be careful how you do it, eg, the big bold red letter EXAMPLE part…

In tests, people said this really bothered them since their notes seemed "polluted’ by someone else’s stuff - even if they knew it was instructions meant for them

If these demo items were real items in the data, I would totally agree with this sentiment. There’s a big difference between this and a static image which disappears completely. Putting real items in my data for demo is bad UI. As Scott pointed out in the first response to this post:

The filler disappears as soon as you click on a text block to move the insertion point to it

The disappear part is kinda important… otherwise you are “polluting” our data!

The “isles of Blockbuster”? That sounds romantic? Where exactly is the Blockbuster archipelago?


Seriously, nice post.

I guess that in a structured work environment, you can have Word templates for whatever you need to write (letters, technical docs etc.) where a lot of filler is already written and the cursor is at the start of the relevant section (title of message or whatever).

As with most things, this is a matter where it depends on the application. With a general-purpose word processor, a blank page is usually suitable - after all, you presumably would have opened a new document if you didn’t have some idea of what you meant to write, and unless you have a specific template (which you could choose to open instead of a new empty document), the ‘sample’ material is likely to get in the way, or even confuse novices users.

As Jeff Atwood said, for most applications, having a template (not a sample, per se) should be the default behavior, but it should be possible to disable or bypass the default; or better still, have separate options for opening a new blank document and opening a new template. This would not only make it clear which is being done, and leave the option open to use a template for expert users when such would be called for. It would further allow user to choose which template they need, from a list or menu, rather than having a single default. This is how many IDEs work now; why shouldn’t this approach be useful for general users as well?

Mes documents

I actually despise word processing and spreadsheet programs that start with anything other than a blank page. I don’t want a new document wizard or a list of possible document types, I just want a new document, or I will want to open up an existing document using the File menu. Granted, this is coming from a more advanced user, but that is something that needs to be kept in mind as well.

Oh, and please tell me you’re joking about Fried Green Tomatoes. What happens if it’s already been rented? Steel Magnolias? :stuck_out_tongue: