The Lack of Mnemonics in Mac OS X

One of the major differences between Mac OS X and Windows is the lack of mnenomics in the Mac OS X menuing system. There is an explanation at Java 1.4.1 Development for Mac OS X: Making User Interface Decisions, about the lack of mnemonics:

This does not fit in with the Aqua guidelines for multiple reasons. Among them:

  • It is extraneous information. The shortcut is already defined to the right of the menu item.
  • It is imprecise. Note in this example that Save and Save As both have the letter S underlined.
  • It clutters the interface.

However, one point that is missed is that mnemonics are in fact an alternate way of accessing menu items quickly. They are not intended as a replacement for shortcut keys. They are there to help people use an application quickly more quickly.

As I start using an application, there is no way that I can remember the shortcut key of every item. I have a good idea which menu the item is on. So if I can take a quick look at a menu, I can see whether an item is on the menu. if it is there, I invoke it.

Mnemonics help reinforce this pattern. Using mnemonics, I can cause the menu to appear quickly. If the item appears on the menu, pressing its mnemnonic invokes the item.

Eventually, I get to remember the sequence of mnemonics required to invoke an item and I don't have to search the items on the menu. If I find I am using the same item frequently, and it has a shortcut key assigned, I will start using the shortcut key.