4 common myths and misconceptions about command palettes

4 common myths and misconceptions about command palettes

As we build our command palette service for the last 6 months, we consistently had calls with startup founders, product managers and UI experts and explained to them what we did.

Command palettes are a user interface (UI) element that allow users to quickly access and execute commands, usually in the form of a searchable list. It is often used as an alternative to traditional menu systems and can be found in many modern applications.

Command palettes can be used for various tasks such as launching applications, creating documents, or editing settings. They are typically accessed with a keyboard shortcut or by clicking on an icon in the application's UI.

In our experience, talking to people about command palettes, some already had an existing in-house solution for their product. These were usually custom-built solutions that allowed users to quickly access and execute commands within their product, but were often not optimized for usability or scalability.

For those who had heard about command palettes but didn't know what it was called, we explained how this type of UI element could help them improve their user experience by providing quick access to commonly used commands and actions.

Finally, there were some who had never heard of or used a command palette before but were blown away by the concept when we explained it to them. We showed them how they could use command palettes to add additional functionality to their products without cluttering up their menus with too many options and overwhelming their users.

All in all, we've been delighted with the response from customers so far and look forward to continuing our work on improving the command palette experience for everyone.

Whatever the end result is, building a command palette from scratch takes time. Additionally, when it is based on a public, open source library, chances are you won't directly have access to:

  • Documentation indexing where users can search within your documentation.
  • Metadata enrichment, where for example, users can search for companies in a CRM app, or customers in an ERP app.
  • The ability for the product manager to customize command palette's color, fonts, appearance and other visual settings.
  • Analytics, including search terms and bounces (ie. when a user searches for a word but cannot see a corresponding command to run).
  • The number of times a command palette is viewed and successfully used.

Magny is born to solve the hardest part of building a command palette (and most of them are already explained above). We wanted to make this breakthrough technology available for every SaaS company and we are proud of the outcomes.

Let's take a look at the common myths and misunderstandings about building a command palette.

Myth 1: command palettes take a lot of time to build

Do command palettes take a lot of time to build? This really depends on the feature set. When you go ahead and try to use one of the readily available libraries, it would take a few days or over the weekend.

The main question to ask here is - what is the level of enhancement and extensibility are you looking for?

A rich feature set with the items we explained above would take several weeks if not months, especially if you go down the build route.

Many companies we discussed with tried and failed. It is a complex structure that may become unmaintainable due to the dependency on developers if a proper dashboard is not built to make product manager's life easier.

This is again where we suggest Magny's (both cloud and on-prem) solution which makes it way easier for the companies to implement a command palette in hours, and not weeks and months.

Myth 2: command palettes are for nerds and power users

A command palette provides easy access to commands, actions and content. Moreover, it is a viable solution for announcing product updates, searching within documentation and letting users know about recommended actions.

Another advantage of a command palette is to leverage user onboarding, by letting the user know about features that is unknown until an in-app search is conducted. Those features have one thing in common: They are available to both end users and power users.

We've mainly seen command palettes rise in complex interfaces, however those interfaces are also heavily used by end users as well. Take Notion for example - when you want to make a search, a friendly command palette guides you through your journey to finding the most appropriate target you are searching for.

Notion is not only for power users but end users as well. This makes its command palette even powerful, universal and reachable to a variety of audience.  

Myth 3: Command palettes are hard to find and understand

One of the questions we consistently have during interviews is "This is a hard to find feature for many users. How can I make sure they have such a great opportunity to learn more about my product?".

This is mainly because we show them how to open a command palette using the (usual) cmd-k shortcut. Here is the catch: while the shortcut is a great way to initialize a command palette, there are other methods to open it as well.

One of them is to link a command palette to a visible search bar. This way, when the user wants to search for an action, the command palette appears and the user is guided accordingly.

Another way to make it visible is to nudge the user after a period of time or activity. There are several ways to nudge (e.g popups, notifications etc) so we won't go into details about how to implement one.

With those additional, visible cues, it would be very hard for the user to find the command palette. Hence, it is really up to the development team to make it apparent or bury it so no one can find out :-)

Myth 4: Command palettes are hard to design

We have seen many command palettes in the past that have been written from scratch and then some using readily-available libraries. The ones that are built from scratch have been designed and implemented using internal resources. The way it works may not have been copied from 3rd party libraries.

On the other hand, a command palette design doing nothing fancy can be implemented using the current libraries as well.

Magny provides best of both worlds. Magny's dashboard has several features that will save thousands of hours for design, product and development team. Hence, using Magny will bring pros that we can quickly list below:

  • Dark and light mode
  • Add commands and categories
  • Change colors and styling with CSS
  • Change the location of the command palette on the screen
  • Change font face, font size and prompt dynamically
  • Change the fuzziness level of the prompt input
  • Change icons and icon colors

Since most of the abovementioned actions and user interface modifications can be done without interfering with the development team, the time it requires to build a command palette decreases considerably.