GNOME Keyboard Preferences

I tend to alternate between two keyboard layouts, which requires me to interact with GNOME’s Keyboard Preferences dialog (aka gnome-keyboard-properties). I have found setting up keyboard layout switching to be a confusing experience, however. So I recently set about doing a design review of the dialog. You can see my full analysis here.

Here’s what the keyboard layout preferences currently looks like in Ubuntu 9.10:

GNOME's current layout preferences

Layout preferences in Ubuntu 9.10

There are a few things that could be better here:

  • Unnecessary repetition of text, particularly the word ‘layout’.
  • The mechanism for setting the layout switching cycle (you reorder the entries in the layout list) is not discoverable.
  • The dialog elements are not in the order likely to be used, nor does their order contribute to the intelligibility of the interface.
  • Irregularly sized buttons create visual complexity.

So I set about redesigning the interface! Here’s what I (along with help from svu and mpt) came up with:

Mockup for redesigned layouts preferences

Mockup for layout preferences new design

I think this new version will be far easier to use (feedback would, as always, be welcome). There is less text. States are more clearly defined. The order of the elements is logical. The buttons are more evenly sized. Reordering of the layout list is advertised by the presence of move buttons.

svu has been great in helping to refine the new design and by implementing it. Here’s how the dialog looked the last time I checked:

GNOME's new layout preferences dialog

GNOME's new layout preferences dialog

This should be what you get in GNOME 2.30 (you can download it from if you want to test it out).

There’s a stack of other changes that I’ve proposed for the keyboard preferences dialog (see the redesign wiki page) which are yet to be implemented. It would be great if anyone wanted to work on these.

Finally, it would be great if people wanted to tell me how they use keyboard switching in GNOME. That would really help with developing some use cases and doing user testing.

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