Stick to what you, and others, know
- 24 November 09
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If there is one common level of thought that people use to interpret the world around them then the most simple and widely understood functionality should be used, any break from these norms will most likely cause confusion.
Eleanor Rosch, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley conducted a series of field experiments in the 1970s with the Dani people of Papua New Guinea, Rosch concluded that when categorizing and understanding an everyday object or experience, people lump items together in terms of those most representative of the group. For example, when asked to give an example of the concept furniture, chair is more frequently cited than stool.
This theory was developed into Prototype theory which shows that some members of a category are more central than others. People will center their experience of the world around central members of a category, so in our example, for furniture, it is chair.
If a central point exists then it could be used as a means of making an interface easier to understand. In practical terms imagine the design problem of naming buttons, perhaps for a web app. The standard ‘Get Started’ or ‘Try it now’ are common but do they represent the core prototype of how most users will see the action they are about to get involved with. The text can certainly make a difference I’ve seen data on projects I have worked on where the button text has increase engagement by upwards of 20%. The problem is trying to figure out exactly where the middle ground lies, this problem could most likely be solved to some extent by a card sorting exercise to discover how the targeted user base thinks.
If there is one common level of thought that people use to interpret the world around them then the most simple and widely understood functionality should be used in order to keep in touch with the experiences of the people for whom we are designing, any break from these norms will most likely cause confusion.
For a designer I think this means ’stick to what you know’ and also what others are familiar with. There is in some cases an argument for highly graphic interfaces but in most cases that will only confuse the user. I would rather turn my design skills towards adding clever additional functionality without the user being pushed too far beyond their comfort zone and remain with the prototypes with which they are familiar.