Re: Metaphor

22 Mar 2005 - 10:35am
9 years ago
4 replies
600 reads
Dan Saffer
2003

On Mar 22, 2005, at 10:59 AM, Adam Korman wrote:

> Although software isn't human it engages our human emotions but
> because it has complex behavior like humans. So, it's really too bad
> that it follows its own machine logic... wouldn't it be nice if
> sometimes computers followed human logic? That would be refreshing.

They can't. They aren't human. Thus they have to be designed to present
themselves as though they had human motivations and behaviors. One way
of doing this is via metaphor. "Dialog" boxes pop up to ask you
questions. The computer "saves" your work. You "send" email. In
reality, the computer isn't doing any of these things: it's
manipulating ones and zeros.

>
>> 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.
>
> Yes, but this becomes self-fulfilling. My mental model of how most
> software works is really screwy, and most software delivers! Is that
> good? If my mental model is (in part) driven by my previous experience
> using software, then what is the role of innovation?

I agree you should break with convention and users' likely mental
models when something significantly better presents itself.

>
>> 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.
>
> But it doesn't, it just pretends to.

All of the digital world is pretend then. Nothing we're seeing is
really what is going on. You are not reading words in an email right
now. Ce n'est pas une pipe.

We need means of representing what is going on inside our complex
digital devices. We simply cannot understand them without metaphor.
They are too complex: from their physical components, to the code we
use to program them, to their complex behaviors. We can't help but use
it to describe and reason about it.

>
>> 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.
>
> That's the positive spin ... but it also DOESN'T do a lot of things
> that a physical folder does. When you add up all the differences, it's
> amazing little a digital folder is like a physical one, and how fast
> the metaphor simply becomes limiting.

Are you really limited by using a digital file folder?

>
>> 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.
>
> Yes, this was helpful when people used computers to do calculations
> and create documents at work. And think about how useless a metaphor
> it is for most of what most people use computers for today:
> communication and entertainment.
>

But neither does the metaphor hinder us from doing those things. But
the desktop metaphor is likely going to be replaced by another
metaphor. Why? To give an otherwise formless digital materials some
shape so we can understand it and reason about it.

Dan

Comments

23 Mar 2005 - 3:49pm
Alain D. M. G. ...
2003

--- Dan Saffer <dan at odannyboy.com> wrote:

> > the metaphor simply becomes limiting.
>
> Are you really limited by using a digital file folder?
>

The number of times I am limited is superior to the number of times I
am empowered. In my case I usually have a choice between using one or
the other, over time, so on the whole I am glad that the digital world
and its folder metaphors are there. Others are not so fortunate, their
work forces them into one type, wether it is empowering or not. Still
others are just incapable of being empowered by digital metaphors or
digital complexities.

I have had to work, recently, with some extremely intelligent people
who use computers for mail only and, over a period of several months
they have proven themselves totaly incapable of understanding and using
the folder metaphor. They got their university degrees in those parts
of the humanities and social sciences where conceptual hierarchies do
not exist and have spent their careers (they are near retirement
now)away from taxonomies, tree views and other digital whatnots as well
as from the physical reality of classifed arrangements in complex
metal- and-paper file systems.

Alain Vaillancourt

__________________________________________________________
Lèche-vitrine ou lèche-écran ?
magasinage.yahoo.ca

23 Mar 2005 - 4:07pm
Dave Malouf
2005

Jumping in where Alain left off ...

Is the question really whether or not "folders" is an apt metaphor? I mean,
it wasn't the first metaphor, right? Doesn't that already say something
about it's needs.

For example we are using a folder metaphor in our application here, but it
doesn't match against the needs of the context of the activities. A "label"
metaphor like Gmails would be much more appropriate.

I gave my IA Summit presentation here to my colleagues and instead of
talking about the connections between IA and IxD like I did in Montreal, I
talked about the connection to our product here.

I spoke about IxD as the design of story and metaphor. I mentioned Alan
Cooper's rebuff to the use of metaphor at all and then made my own
interpretation, saying that we shouldn't create "more" metaphor since the
existing ones can't be removed so easily. But said I disagree w/ no more
metaphor, but suggest that we have to be VERY careful with our creation of
new metaphor and our allegiance to old metaphor.

-- dave

David Heller
http://synapticburn.com/
http://ixdg.org
dave at ixdg.org
dave at synapticburn.com
AIM: bolinhanyc || Y!: dave_ux || MSN: hippiefunk at hotmail.com

23 Mar 2005 - 5:58pm
Dan Saffer
2003

On Mar 23, 2005, at 4:49 PM, Alain D. M. G. Vaillancourt wrote:

>
> --- Dan Saffer <dan at odannyboy.com> wrote:
>
>>> the metaphor simply becomes limiting.
>>
>> Are you really limited by using a digital file folder?
>>
>
> The number of times I am limited is superior to the number of times I
> am empowered.

Perhaps it is time to replace the folder metaphor with something else.
The metaphor it replaced (Group of Files is a Directory) is nearly
forgotten. There may be many other ways of clustering files. I've been
doing my Master's thesis project on using another metaphor--the
pile--to organize digital documents. http://www.pilecabinets.com

But perhaps all metaphors have some sort of life cycle, from at first
being a novelty, to being part of our unconscious ("dead"), to being
replaced by another metaphor. A vast majority of metaphors are in that
middle state of being in our unconscious, so that we don't see them as
metaphors any longer. I seldom think of my virtual desktop as a desktop
anymore, or a virtual folder as a physical folder any longer.

> In my case I usually have a choice between using one or
> the other, over time, so on the whole I am glad that the digital world
> and its folder metaphors are there. Others are not so fortunate, their
> work forces them into one type, wether it is empowering or not. Still
> others are just incapable of being empowered by digital metaphors or
> digital complexities.
>

There's a great quote from John Brock: "If you don't have a desktop,
the desktop metaphor doesn't connect." We need to be careful of the
metaphoric choices we make--they can empower or they can weaken.

Dan

23 Mar 2005 - 7:01pm
Anjali Arora, NYU
2004

In this context, anyone have a digital copy of 'The Fruitful Flaws of
Strategy Metaphors ' by Tihamer von Ghyczy (Harvard Business Online Sep 1,
2003) ? I'd love to read through it. The focus for developing metaphors in
this article seems to be more for business strategy ideas, but I think it
can have value for IXD too.

Essentially the author argues that " ... But metaphors are often improperly
used, their potential left unrealized. We tend to look for reassuring
parallels in business metaphors instead of troubling differences, the author
contends. In fact, using metaphors to come up with new strategic
perspectives begins to work only when the metaphors themselves don't work,
or at least don't seem to."

-anjali

----- Original Message -----
From: "Dan Saffer" <dan at odannyboy.com>
To: "'Interaction Designers'" <discuss at interactiondesigners.com>
Sent: Wednesday, March 23, 2005 6:58 PM
Subject: Re: [ID Discuss] Re: Metaphor

> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
material.]
>
>
> On Mar 23, 2005, at 4:49 PM, Alain D. M. G. Vaillancourt wrote:
>
> >
> > --- Dan Saffer <dan at odannyboy.com> wrote:
> >
> >>> the metaphor simply becomes limiting.
> >>
> >> Are you really limited by using a digital file folder?
> >>
> >
> > The number of times I am limited is superior to the number of times I
> > am empowered.
>
> Perhaps it is time to replace the folder metaphor with something else.
> The metaphor it replaced (Group of Files is a Directory) is nearly
> forgotten. There may be many other ways of clustering files. I've been
> doing my Master's thesis project on using another metaphor--the
> pile--to organize digital documents. http://www.pilecabinets.com
>
> But perhaps all metaphors have some sort of life cycle, from at first
> being a novelty, to being part of our unconscious ("dead"), to being
> replaced by another metaphor. A vast majority of metaphors are in that
> middle state of being in our unconscious, so that we don't see them as
> metaphors any longer. I seldom think of my virtual desktop as a desktop
> anymore, or a virtual folder as a physical folder any longer.
>
> > In my case I usually have a choice between using one or
> > the other, over time, so on the whole I am glad that the digital world
> > and its folder metaphors are there. Others are not so fortunate, their
> > work forces them into one type, wether it is empowering or not. Still
> > others are just incapable of being empowered by digital metaphors or
> > digital complexities.
> >
>
> There's a great quote from John Brock: "If you don't have a desktop,
> the desktop metaphor doesn't connect." We need to be careful of the
> metaphoric choices we make--they can empower or they can weaken.
>
>
> Dan
>
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