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Dave Smith <[log in to unmask]>
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Dave Smith <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 2 Jan 2001 11:01:49 -0500
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I think that metaphors can be extremely valuable in many cases. If you have
a good grasp on you're intended audience and their cultural expectations,
using metaphors based on those expectations can actually enhance
understanding. Ultimately the idea would be for the metaphor you are using
to be seamless so that it plugs directly into the users way of thinking,
rather than appearing as a contrived metaphor.

Case in point: someone I know edits a scholarly journal online. She recently
changed the interface from a standard web structure to one based on a paper
journal metaphor. Not only did the hits increase but the number of
submissions from top level experts in that field went up dramatically.

Obvioulsy, this example doesn't carry over to something like a big eCommerse
site where the target audience is somewhat less specialized, but it does
show a high level of value in matching the user's offline thought processes.
The fact is that all UI design is based on metaphor, and a lot of what we do
as usability specialists is to try and create a standard one that meets
users online expectations continually. Forcing this single metaphor seems to
do more to assist the IAs/Designers than using metaphors that the intended
user relates to.

It's sort of a double-edged sword. On the one side, using metaphors that
target the users offline expectations can be valuable in creating the most
comfortable situation for their specific group. On the other side, forcing a
single metaphor creates a common ground that will be of equal comfort to all
users who learn that metaphor. Unfortunately, the two are somewhat mutually

It really is a complex question. Something good to chew on for the new year.
Though I suspect that discussion on the topic will fall before the oh so
important topic of Flash as so many worthwhile threads have before.

-Dave Smith
Consultant - Usability Design Group
Broadreach Consulting

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