Publication: Improving Window Switching Interfaces

Switching between windows on a computer is a frequent activity, but current switching mechanisms make it difficult to find items. We carried out a longitudinal study that recorded actual window switching behaviour. We found that window revisitation is very common, and that people spend most time working with a small set of windows and applications. We identify two design principles from these observations. First, spatial constancy in the layout of items in a switching interface can aid memorability and support revisitation. Second, gradually adjusting the size of application and window zones in a switcher can improve visibility and targeting for frequently-used items. We carried out two studies to confirm the value of these design ideas. The first showed that spatially stable layouts are significantly faster than the commonly-used recency layout. The second showed that gradual adjustments to accommodate new applications and windows do not reduce performance.




S. Tak Andy Cockburn
University of Canterbury
K. Humm D. Ahlstrom
Carl Gutwin
University of Saskatchewan
Joey Scarr


Tak, S., Cockburn, A., Humm, K., Ahlstrom, D., Gutwin, C., Scarr, J. 2009. Improving Window Switching Interfaces. In Proceedings of the IFIP Conference on HCI (Interact), 187-200. DOI=10.1007/978-3-642-03658-3_25.


@inproceedings {463-improving-window-switching,
author= {S. Tak and Andy Cockburn and K. Humm and D. Ahlstrom and Carl Gutwin and Joey Scarr},
title= {Improving Window Switching Interfaces},
booktitle= {Proceedings of the IFIP Conference on HCI (Interact)},
year= {2009},
pages= {187-200}