Metaphor (was Re: Five Lenses: Towards a Toolkit for Interaction Design)
22 Mar 2005 - 8:17am
10 years ago
On Mar 22, 2005, at 12:53 AM, Adam Korman wrote:
> >>> And the reason so much software is so bad is because people approach >>> designing software as if they are designing artifacts. >> >> I think there's a lot of reasons software is bad, but this isn't one >> of them. Care to explain further? > > The evidence of this approach is everywhere. My computer has a > desktop, folders, and files. I open windows with documents and forms. > I've got interfaces with tabs, palettes, radio buttons, sliders, etc. > Whoops, none of that is true. I'm actually just sitting in front of a > screen with a bunch of pixels on it that could display anything.
I think it's exactly this reason--that digital devices could display
anything--that metaphors get used. We need to give the digital some
sort of form, and metaphors give shape to the abstract (think Time is
Money). This is how humans learn things, by cross-domain mapping:
taking the unfamiliar and mapping it to the familiar. In cognitive
psychology, this is called a schema.
> > I'm not (just) saying these metaphors are bad, but that this sort of > focus has come at the expense of paying attention to how software > behaves and communicates with people.
Software isn't human. It behaves following its own machine logic.
What's important is how its behavior is presented to the user: in the
way it communicates. And that this communication matches the mental
model of how the user thinks the software *should* work. Metaphor can
be a crucial component of that communication. I think a digital folder
should hold files like a physical one does...and voila! it does.
Granted, there are problems with this, My digital folder can do a lot
of things my physical one can't, like be in two places at once and
duplicate itself. But the metaphor is strong enough that this
additional functionality doesn't break it.
While using metaphor has many traps, it's also very powerful. Think of
the massive cognitive leap and subsequent adoption of computers that
happened when the desktop metaphor was introduced.