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23 FEBRUARY 2014

Jamie O'Neil: Skipping Slides (building cognitive maps)

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CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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.

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TAGS

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

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
20 MARCH 2012

The importance of metaphor and narrative to our habits of mind

"Fiction – with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions – offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people's thoughts and feelings.

The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real–life social encounters."

(Annie Murphy Paul, 17 March 2012, NYTimes.com)

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affirming experience • booksbrainbrain networksbrain science • cause and effect • cognitive mapcomplex problemscomputer simulationdepictiondescription • emotional life • empathetic individuals • empathyexperiencefictional charactersfrustration • great literature • habits of mind • hidden motives • imaginative metaphors • intentions • interacting instances • languageliterature • longings • mental image • mental state • metaphornarrativenarrative fiction • navigate interactions • neurosciencenovelsoff the page • people and their actions • psychologyreaders • reading novels • real thingreal-life • redolent details • rich replica • simulating reality • simulationsmell • social encounters • social interactionsocial interactionssocial lifesocial worldtexture • the complexities of social life • theory of mindthoughts and feelingswatching television • your brain

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
24 FEBRUARY 2012

Adrift in a shopping maze: it's a successful no-exit strategy

"Alan Penn, director of the Virtual Reality Centre for the Built Environment at University College London, has come to a conclusion that Ikea stores are 'designed just like a maze'. In doing so he's given scholarly validation to a feeling that will have occurred to many shoppers as they blunder around the blue and yellow hangar looking for a new TV unit only to emerge with two candles, a wok and a bottle of lingonberry cordial.

Penn went on to suggest that it was Ikea's strategy to keep customers inside the store for the maximum time possible. They achieve this by setting a route round the store from which it's difficult to deviate. Taking the shortcuts (which are only there to conform with fire regulations) often leaves you adrift in a sea of lampshades.

The effect is to boost impulse purchases. See a coathanger, and you might buy 'because the layout is so confusing you know you won't be able to go back and get it later'."

(Ian Tucker, 30 January 2011, The Observer, Guardian News and Media Limited)

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a sea of lampshades • adrift • Alan Penn • circulation • coathanger • cognitive map • confusing • customersdesigndirectional informationexperience design • floor plan • IKEA • Ikea stores • impulse buy • impulse purchase • layout • maze • mental imagenavigationno escape • no-exit • organising spacesprogrammatic spaceroutesensemakingsequence of spacesshopping experiencespatial designspatial literacyspatial narrative • spatial sequence • store • store designtrappedUniversity College London • Virtual Reality Centre for the Built Environment • wayfindingyou are here

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
08 SEPTEMBER 2010

Wayfinding: the organization and communication of our dynamic relationship to space and the environment

"Wayfinding is the organization and communication of our dynamic relationship to space and the environment. Successful design to promote wayfinding allows people to: (1) determine their location within a setting, (2) determine their destination, and (3) develop a plan that will take them from their location to their destination. The design of wayfinding systems should include: (1) identifying and marking spaces, (2) grouping spaces, and (3) linking and organizing spaces through both architectural and graphic means."

(Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access, School of Architecture and Planning, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York)

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TAGS

architectural communication • boundarycirculationcognitive mapconceptual mapconceptual model • cues • design • destination • destination identificationdirectional information • districts • edgesenvironmentgraphic communicationgraphic deviceslegibilitylinkinglocalitylocationmarkersmental imagenavigationnavigational methodsnodeorganisation and communicationorganising spacesorientationpathperceptionrepetitionrhythmsignagespace • tactile marking systems • wayfindingwayfinding systemsyou are herezone

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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