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Are command bars the future?

Maggie Appleton recently wrote about “Command K Bars”, those command line bars that you pull up with a keyboard combination. In addition to giving a lot of cool product recommendations, she explained the pattern for designers:

Command bars are command-line bars that pop up in the middle of the screen when you hit a certain keyboard shortcut.They’re also known as ‘command palettes’, ‘command launchers’, or ‘omniboxes’ Traditionally CMD + K, hence the moniker “Command K bars.” But CMD + E and CMD + / have also been strong shortcut contenders.

Bars like this let users search through all the available commands in an application. Rather than remembering which sub-sub-sub menu a function lives in, users need only remember its name.

They don’t even have to remember its exact name. Fuzzy search can help them find it by simply typing in similar names or related keywords. For example, if I type “make” into a command bar, it’s likely to show me any actions related to creating new items. Even if “make” isn’t part of the action name.

Some notable examples of this in my line of work are:

I, for one, absolutely love this pattern. It’s so nice to be able to quickly jump to a command without needing to remember where the button is in the UI or even the exact name for it. These command bars definitely improve my workflow.

However they feel like a very developer-focused pattern, extending to products for companies that work in tech. I’m skeptical at this point that the pattern is ready for mainstream products.

In a quick survey of popular information and social-media sites, I found no command K bars.

It’s also worth noting that the command key is Mac-centric. In tech we can probably get away with that since it has large sections that are dominated by Mac users, but that isn’t the case for products with broader audiences. Maybe swapping command for control is sufficient, or maybe switching to the meta key makes more sense. It might take time before a true standard emerges.

I think command bars are a great pattern, and I’m looking forward to using them in more ways and on more sites. But I wouldn’t prioritize that feature work unless you are in an industry that caters to developers or the companies that employ them.

What do you think: are command bars the wave of the future? Let me know.

Happy interacting!



About the author

Sean McPherson is a software engineer for Khan Academy who specializes in web and mobile app development. He lives with his wife, sons, and dog in Pittsburgh, PA.