"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.
"retaggr [was before it closed] a widget-based service that enables active web users to link all their various site-based profiles into a single, always updated, interactive business card that can be attached to virtually any type of content or interaction the user has on the web.
The interactive profile card can be linked to or embedded anywhere online, including in email signatures, blog entries, other text, or as part of online profiles on sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, twitter, and others. It lets you leave a summary of the way you define yourself on the web anywhere you want to share it."
(Retaggr, CrunchBase Profile)
"Google transformed its ever-changing website logo into a game of Pac-Man on Friday to celebrate the game's impending 30th anniversary.
The company says that the widget, on the Google home page, is its first ever interactive, playable doodle. By pressing 'Insert Coin' where the 'I'm Feeling Lucky' button usually appears, you can start the game up and control Pac-Man with the arrow keys.
Insert two 'coins' and two players can play simultaneously, controlling Ms. Pac-Man with the WASD keys.
Google says the doodle will stay active for 48 hours. Much like the original game, it has been programmed to glitch and end at the 256th screen.
On May 22, 1980, Namco put the first Pac-Man arcade machine on location test in Shibuya, Tokyo."
(Chris Kohler, Wired Magazine, 21 May 2010)
"Skittles [ ] no longer have a "traditional" website, yet their presence on the Internet has been expanded dramatically and an enormous buzz has been created.
When you enter the skittles web address in your browser you are presented with what can be likened to a widget. This points you to the various sites on the social web."
"You'll have seen the adverts for the UPS widget, which is designed to help you make better use of their services, and you probably also know about the EasyJet widget for booking flights. Both these tools are designed to help the user interact with the company - as well as make more sales."
(Corporate Eye, September 28 2007)