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Which clippings match 'Meaning Making' keyword pg.1 of 2
29 APRIL 2013

The idiomatic paradigm of user interface design

"This third method of user interface design solves the problems of both of the previous two. I call it idiomatic because it is based on the way we learn and use idioms, or figures of speech, like 'beat around the bush' or 'cool.' They are easily understood but not in the same way metaphors are. There is no bush and nobody is beating anything. We understand the idiom because we have learned it and because it is distinctive. Pretty simple, huh? This is where the human mind is really outstanding, mastering learning and remembering idioms very easily without having to depend on comparing them to known situations or understanding how they work. It has to, because most idioms don't have any metaphoric meaning at all. Most of the controls on a GUI interface are idioms. Splitters, winders, comboboxes and scrollbars are things we learn idiomatically rather than intuit metaphorically.

We tend to think that learning is hard because of the conditioning we have from the technology paradigm. Those old user interfaces were very hard to learn because you also had to understand how they worked. Most of what we know we learn without understanding; things like faces, social interactions, attitudes, the arrangement of rooms and furniture in our houses and offices. We don't 'understand' why someone's face is composed the way it is, but we 'know' their face. We recognize it because we have looked at it and memorized it, and it wasn't that difficult.

The familiar mouse is not metaphoric of anything but rather is learned idiomatically. That scene in Star Trek IV where Scotty returns to twentieth–century Earth and tries to speak into a mouse is one of the few parts of that movie that is not fiction. There is nothing about the mouse that indicates its purpose or use, nor is it comparable to anything else in our experience, so learning it is not intuitive. However, learning to point at things with a mouse is incredibly easy. Someone probably spent all of three seconds showing it to you your first time, and you mastered it from that instant on. We don't know or care how mice work and yet we can operate them just fine. That is idiomatic learning.

The key observation about idioms is that although they must be learned, good ones only need to be learned once. It is quite easy to learn idioms like 'cool' or 'politically correct' or 'kick the bucket' or 'the lights are on but nobody's home' or 'in a pickle' or 'inside the beltway' or 'take the red–eye' or 'grunge.' The human mind is capable of picking up an idiom like one of the above from a single hearing. It is similarly easy to learn idioms like checkboxes, radiobuttons, pushbuttons, close boxes, pulldown menus, buttcons, tabs, comboboxes, keyboards, mice and pens.

This idea of taking a simple action or symbol and imbuing it with meaning is familiar to marketing professionals. Synthesizing idioms is the essence of product branding, whereby a company takes a product or company name and imbues it with a desired meaning. Tylenol is a meaningless word, an idiom, but the McNeil company has spent millions to make you associate that word with safe, simple, trustworthy pain relief. Of course, idioms are visual, too. The golden arches of MacDonalds, the three diamonds of Mitsubishi, the five interlocking rings of the Olympics, even Microsoft's flying window are non–metaphoric idioms that are instantly recognizable and imbued with common meaning.

Ironically, much of the familiar GUI baggage often thought to be metaphoric is actually idiomatic. Such artifacts as window close boxes, resizable windows, infinitely nested file folders and clicking and dragging are non–metaphoric operations–they have no parallel in the real world. They derive their strength only from their easy idiomatic learnability."

(Alan Cooper, 1995)

Alan Cooper (1995). "The Myth of Metaphor", Visual Basic Programmer's Journal.



1995 • click and drag • cognitive map • combo box • computer mouseconceptual modelfigure of speechgraphical user interfaceGUI • hard to learn • human-computer interactionidiom • idiomatic • idiomatic learnability • idiomatic learning • idioms • imbued with meaning • interface designinterface metaphor • known situations • learned behaviour • learning and remembering • meaning making • nested file structure • no parallel in the real world • non-metaphoric idioms • non-metaphoric operationsn • pulldown menu • pushbutton • radiobutton • resizable window • scrollbar • synthesizing idioms • tabbed browsing • technology paradigm • user interface design • user interfaces • widget


Simon Perkins
10 FEBRUARY 2013

Metamedia at Stanford

"Metamedia ia a studio and lab that pursues research and pedagogy in design history and media materialities.

It is located online, in Stanford Archaeology Center, and has worldwide affiliates.

Metamedia combines archaeology and media, with an archaeological and long–term focus on how people get on with things, with media(works) treated as modes of engagement between people and things. Media as artifacts and prostheses as well as systems to convey meaning: we emphasize the materialities of mediation at the heart of design – the way the steel was burnished, the clay was turned, how the vessel connects makers and materials, users and contents in genealogies of containment, portage, representation ... whatever work gets done."


archaeological media lab • archaeological sensibility • archaeological view • archaeology • archaeology and media • archiveartefactsbetween people and things • constantly revisiting the past • contemporary experience • designdesign history • genealogies of containment • historicity • how people get on with things • makers and materials • material modalities • material modes of engagementmaterialitiesmaterialitymeaning making • media materialities • media works • mediationmemory • Metamedia (archaeological media lab) • modes of engagement • portage • prosthesis • re-presentation • re-presenting • research lab • reworking • sense of history • Stanford Archaeology Center • Stanford Universitythe pastthingstraces


Simon Perkins
08 JULY 2012

From LMS to VLE or from supermarkets to airports: Classifying elearning platforms using metaphors

"This paper presents a rational model developed to make sense of various elearning platforms currently in use in Australian universities. The conceptualisation and organisation of the elearning platforms is underpinned by an educational psychology framework of social construction of meaning, data visualisation and story telling for meaning making. The model explains how various elearning platforms can be integrated to represent a threedimensional, hierarchical construct that has the potential to aid understandings about the utility of information systems (IS) for learning and teaching. The model shows that LAMS, which has gained increasing popularity in Europe (Laurillard & Masterman, 2010), is usefully depicted as a 'middle ground' system, successfully bridging conventional LMSs and more advanced IS, referred here as (MU)VLEs (Multi–User Virtual Learning Environments). The model has important implications on how university lecturers, classroom teachers and students come to engage with an increasingly complex elearning environment."

(Eva Dobozy & Patricia Reynolds, LAMS Conference Sydney 2010)

Dobozy, E. & Reynolds, P. (2010). From LMS to VLE or from supermarkets to airports: Classifying elearning platforms using metaphors. Proceedings of the 5th International LAMS Conference 2010.


2010airport • airport metaphor • AustraliaAustralian universitiesclassification scheme • classifying • classroomcollaborationconceptual modelconceptualisationconference paper • constructivist approach • data visualisationDiana Laurillarde-learninge-learning application • e-learning conference • e-learning platformeducational psychologyelearning • elearning environments • elearning platforms • electronic portfolioengagement • Eva Dobozy • hierarchical orderinginformation systemsinformation visualisation • IS • LAMS • LAMS Conference • learninglearning and teachinglearning designlearning design support environmentlecturer • Liz Masterman • LMSmeaning makingmetaphor • Multi-User Virtual Learning Environments • MUVLE • Patricia Reynolds • pedagogysocial construction of meaningsocial constructivismsocial-constructivist approachstorytellingstudentssupermarketteachinguser requirementsvisual metaphorVLE


Simon Perkins
25 APRIL 2011

Stephen Fry: Don't Mind Your Language...

"For me, it is a cause of some upset that more Anglophones don't enjoy language. Music is enjoyable it seems, so are dance and other, athletic forms of movement. People seem to be able to find sensual and sensuous pleasure in almost anything but words these days. Words, it seems belong to other people, anyone who expresses themselves with originality, delight and verbal freshness is more likely to be mocked, distrusted or disliked than welcomed. The free and happy use of words appears to be considered elitist or pretentious. Sadly, desperately sadly, the only people who seem to bother with language in public today bother with it in quite the wrong way. They write letters to broadcasters and newspapers in which they are rude and haughty about other people's usage and in which they show off their own superior 'knowledge' of how language should be. I hate that, and I particularly hate the fact that so many of these pedants assume that I'm on their side. When asked to join in a 'let's persuade this supermarket chain to get rid of their 'five items or less' sign' I never join in. Yes, I am aware of the technical distinction between 'less' and 'fewer', and between 'uninterested' and 'disinterested' and 'infer' and 'imply', but none of these are of importance to me. 'None of these are of importance,' I wrote there, you'll notice – the old pedantic me would have insisted on 'none of them is of importance'. Well I'm glad to say I've outgrown that silly approach to language. Oscar Wilde, and there have been few greater and more complete lords of language in the past thousand years, once included with a manuscript he was delivering to his publishers a compliment slip in which he had scribbled the injunction: 'I'll leave you to tidy up the woulds and shoulds, wills and shalls, thats and whiches &c.' Which gives us all encouragement to feel less guilty, don't you think?

There are all kinds of pedants around with more time to read and imitate Lynne Truss and John Humphrys than to write poems, love–letters, novels and stories it seems. They whip out their Sharpies and take away and add apostrophes from public signs, shake their heads at prepositions which end sentences and mutter at split infinitives and misspellings, but do they bubble and froth and slobber and cream with joy at language? Do they ever let the tripping of the tips of their tongues against the tops of their teeth transport them to giddy euphoric bliss? Do they ever yoke impossible words together for the sound–sex of it? Do they use language to seduce, charm, excite, please, affirm and tickle those they talk to? Do they? I doubt it. They're too farting busy sneering at a greengrocer's less than perfect use of the apostrophe. Well sod them to Hades. They think they're guardians of language. They're no more guardians of language than the Kennel Club is the guardian of dogkind.

The worst of this sorry bunch of semi–educated losers are those who seem to glory in being irritated by nouns becoming verbs. How dense and deaf to language development do you have to be? If you don't like nouns becoming verbs, then for heaven's sake avoid Shakespeare who made a doing–word out of a thing–word every chance he got. He TABLED the motion and CHAIRED the meeting in which nouns were made verbs. New examples from our time might take some getting used to: 'He actioned it that day' for instance might strike some as a verbing too far, but we have been sanctioning, envisioning, propositioning and stationing for a long time, so why not 'action'? 'Because it's ugly,' whinge the pedants. It's only ugly because it's new and you don't like it. Ugly in the way Picasso, Stravinsky and Eliot were once thought ugly and before them Monet, Mahler and Baudelaire. Pedants will also claim, with what I am sure is eye–popping insincerity and shameless disingenuousness, that their fight is only for 'clarity'. This is all very well, but there is no doubt what 'Five items or less' means, just as only a dolt can't tell from the context and from the age and education of the speaker, whether 'disinterested' is used in the 'proper' sense of non–partisan, or in the 'improper' sense of uninterested. No, the claim to be defending language for the sake of clarity almost never, ever holds water. Nor does the idea that following grammatical rules in language demonstrates clarity of thought and intelligence of mind. Having said this, I admit that if you want to communicate well for the sake of passing an exam or job interview, then it is obvious that wildly original and excessively heterodox language could land you in the soup. I think what offends examiners and employers when confronted with extremely informal, unpunctuated and haywire language is the implication of not caring that underlies it. You slip into a suit for an interview and you dress your language up too. You can wear what you like linguistically or sartorially when you're at home or with friends, but most people accept the need to smarten up under some circumstances – it's only considerate. But that is an issue of fitness, of suitability, it has nothing to do with correctness. There no right language or wrong language any more than are right or wrong clothes. Context, convention and circumstance are all.

I don't deny that a small part of me still clings to a ghastly Radio 4/newspaper–letter–writer reader pedantry, but I fight against it in much the same way I try to fight against my gluttony, anger, selfishness and other vices. I must confess, for example, that I find it hard not to wince when someone aspirates the word 'aitch'. ..."

(Stephen Fry, 4 November 2008)

Fig.1 Matthew Rogers (2010). 'Stephen Fry Kinetic Typography – Language'.



Anglophone • animated presentation • apostrophe • Charles Baudelaire • circumstance • clarityclarity of thoughtClaude Monetcommunicationcontextconvention • correctness • cultureeducation • elitism • evolutionexpressiongrammatical rulesGustav Mahler • heterodox language • Igor Stravinskyinnovationintelligence of mind • John Humphrys • kinetic typographyknowledgelanguagelanguage developmentlanguage habitslinguistics • Lynne Truss • meaning makingmotion graphicsmotion typographyOscar WildePablo Picasso • pedantry • pleasure • pretension • Radio 4scriptible • sensuous • sentence • sharpie • signageStephen Fry • technical rules • Thomas Stearns Eliotusageuse of wordsverbal freshnessvisualisationWilliam Shakespearewords


Simon Perkins
15 MARCH 2011

A simple abstract model of human communication

"One of the first designs of the information theory is the model of communication by Shannon and Weaver. Claude Shannon, an engineer at Bell Telephone Laboratories, worked with Warren Weaver on the classic book 'The mathematical theory of communication'. In this work Shannon and Weaver sought to identify the quickest and most efficient way to get a message from one point to another. Their goal was to discover how communication messages could be converted into electronic signals most efficiently, and how those signals could be transmitted with a minimum of error. In studying this, Shannon and Weaver developed a mechanical and mathematical model of communication, known as the 'Shannon and Weaver model of communication'. ...

Shannon and Weaver broadly defined communication as 'all of the procedures by which one mind may affect another'. Their communication model consisted of an information source: the source's message, a transmitter, a signal, and a receiver: the receiver's message, and a destination. Eventually, the standard communication model featured the source or encoder, who encodes a message by translating an idea into a code in terms of bits. A code is a language or other set of symbols or signs that can be used to transmit a thought through one or more channels to elicit a response in a receiver or decoder. Shannon and Weaver also included the factor noise into the model. The study conducted by Shannon and Weaver was motivated by the desire to increase the efficiency and accuracy or fidelity of transmission and reception. Efficiency refers to the bits of information per second that can be sent and received. Accuracy is the extent to which signals of information can be understood. In this sense, accuracy refers more to clear reception than to the meaning of message. This engineering model asks quite different questions than do other approaches to human communication research."

(Communication Studies, University of Twente)

Shannon, C.E., & Weaver, W. (1949). The mathematical theory of communication. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Hawes, L.C. (1975). Pragmatics of analoguing: Theory and model construction in communication. Reading, MA: Addison–Wesley.

Fig.1 Mathematical (information) model of communication.



abstract modelabstractionaccuracyBell LabsBell Telephone LaboratoriesClaude Shannon • communicating system • communicationcommunication processcommunication theorydisorderefficiencyentropyfidelity • human communication research • information technologyinformation theorymeaning makingmessagemodel of communicationnoise • output • pioneeringpredictabilityrandomness • receiver • reception • redundancysignalsymbolsystems approachsystems theorytheory of communication • transmission • transmission model of communicationtransmitter • University of Twente • Warren Weaver


Simon Perkins

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