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ACM SIGCHI WWW Human Factors (Open Discussion)

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"ACM SIGCHI WWW Human Factors (Open Discussion)" <[log in to unmask]>
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Mon, 22 May 2006 11:38:15 -0700
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Jim Griesemer <[log in to unmask]>
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> But there are good reasons for naming things, and
> making users aware of it.
> For example, we name streets, cities, and states.
> And while it is possible
> to navigate a town like Boston without knowing that
> you are on Boylston
> Street, it sure helps to know, and the task becomes
> easier, when you do know

This is anecdotal, butů

The idea of a Web application behaving like Boston
streets is scary to me (no offence intended to Boston
folks). My first experience driving there was for UI7
East and it suggests to me an example of mental model
aids that can actually cause problems.

Before arriving, I dutifully checked a map of the
Cambridge area. I decided on exiting Mass pike and
following the Charles River to Cambridge. It was
perfectly logical to me. Ever other river drive I've
ever traveled led me *down the river*. The map only
confirmed this belief. However, I was shocked and
frustrated to find myself crossing the river three
times. Nothing ever prepared me for the complex set of
underpasses and overpasses before each river
bridge--not the maps, not the signs. Not only was it
counter-intuitive, it actually felt like Boston was
trying to trick me into going somewhere else. The map
led me astray. Certainly, Bostonians must know how to
navigate this road, right? Well, I was recently
surprised to discover life-long Boston residents who
still struggle with this route. 

To me, this is a classic example of the obstacle of a
designing against user expectation. Now, I recognize
that Web apps don't have to contend with Boston's
cow-path history. Still, I believe user expectation
based on real world experience is a force to take into
account, perhaps even the strongest force. My
experience with icon design only underscores this. 

Recently, I have been going to university sites to
find a particular department. On most of them, I've
had to resort to site maps or search. The results have
often been like the map of the Charles River--down the
wrong road. I agree with Jared. The design needs to be
intuitive first.

A couple of side points:

-- I will never follow the Charles River again. I'll
find *any* other route!

-- In the Philadelphia area, you generally need a map
to find your way. Many streets mysteriously change
names and don't exist anywhere near the town they're
named after. Yet, so many people here don't use maps.
Just because you provide people with mental model
aids, it doesn't mean they'll use them.

Jim Griesemer

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