Re: Visual metaphors

Subject: Re: Visual metaphors
From: Stuart Selber <sselber -at- CRAFT -dot- CAMP -dot- CLARKSON -dot- EDU>
Date: Thu, 7 Mar 1996 07:59:48 -0500

On Thu, 7 Mar 1996, Richard Mateosian wrote:

> >I'm arguing against *global* metaphors. No software 'desktop' that I've
> >seen looks anything like the top of my desk. Computer calendars, clocks
> >and files would be much better at their jobs if they weren't pretending
> >to be the real thing.

> The issue isn't whether the software desktop looks or acts like a desktop.
> The issue is consistency and predictability. Once users grasp the "physics"
> of your user interface, they can figure out a lot for themselves.

It's also more than that. Metaphors don't necessarily work because
they're accurate (calling a person a wolf invokes all kinds of images
about that person--they're ferocious, out for themselves, out for the
kill, and so on--that we don't really find in wolves. Wolves happen to be
family oriented, very social, and only kill when hungry). But the
metaphor works because it relies on cultural narratives, the stories we
tell ourselves about the way things are, and not because the comparison
between the two domains holds up in any substantial way. If the metaphor
invokes common feelings among a group of people, then it will probably be
successful in some way. That's a different way of thinking about
metaphors--not if the comparison seems accurate (between interface and
desktop) but what kinds of feelings that comparison seems to invoke in
people/users (whether we think those feelings are accurate or not).
Sounds like an area for usability testing....

Stuart A. Selber
Department of Technical Communications
Clarkson University, Box 5760
Potsdam, New York 13699-5760
315-268-6450 (voice)
315-268-6485 (fax)
sselber -at- craft -dot- camp -dot- clarkson -dot- edu

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