However, hope is at hand, through a recent study by a PhD Student at the University of Leicester, Kine Dorum,
Based on the notion that people create images or maps in their heads to represent the world around them, designers and developers often attempt to help people find their way by working on the principle that virtual environments should be made to look and feel as similar to the real world as possible. One example is the computer desktop with its files, folders, and 'trash can'.
Kine Dorum’s work suggests that how things look may not necessarily be an all-important factor when designing information spaces.
Comparing three identical-looking websites based on different real-world scenarios, the study shows that people tend to rely on prior knowledge of a space when moving around, rather than how realistic the spatial layout is.
Kine explained: “In other words, we don't need an image of a door presented on the screen in order to see a door in our mind, and a button on a website does not necessarily need to look like a real button.
“The effect of familiarity is so strong that it can have a greater impact than other factors that have previously been found to affect people's ability to use computer environments, such as individual thinking styles and a person's ability to orient themselves in space.”
So, while tapping into people's knowledge about the real world, these findings could indicate that there should be fewer constraints on the visual design of computer environments than are currently applied.
Through her work as a graphic and web designer Kine came to the field of cognitive psychology with experience of and interest in people’s differing ability to use computer based material. In her PhD project she is making use of psychological theory to test and gain insight into what happens at the interface between people and computers. The goal is to identify a set of key characteristics of both the user and the computer environment, which can be used to predict behaviour and performance, and inform design decisions.
The research is being presented to the public at the University of Leicester on Thursday 26th June. The Festival of Postgraduate Research introduces employers and the public to the next generation of innovators and cutting-edge researchers, and gives postgraduate researchers the opportunity to explain the real world implications of their research to a wide ranging audience.
More information about the Festival of Postgraduate Research is available at: www.le.ac.uk/gradschool/festival
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