Digital Media

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Gestalt Principles of Perception and Human-Computer Interface

Most of the conventions for using a computer are solidly engrained in our minds. We don't think about scrolling up and down in a Web site; we know when we can click on a link for a number of reasons: our mouse turns from an arrow to a hand, the word is or becomes underlined, sometimes the color of the text changes, maybe a button lights up. These conventions give us feedback as users so that we feel confident when clicking that we will be transported to a new location.

These Web conventions offer continuity. One of Gestalt's principles of perception, people prefer continuity in their interactions. People want a Web site to feel seamless and effortless. They should be able to flow from one part of the Web site to another without thinking about it. One way to improve continuity is through consistency, one of Shneiderman's principles of human-computer interface. Menus, colors and fonts should be consistent throughout the site as should the navigation of the site.

It will also help the human-computer interface to design items into related groups of items. Using the similarity principle, we can suppose that people will see the groups as a whole rather than as individual items - this will make the material seem more manageable. This also helps to give users control of their experience by allowing them to see where they want to go.

It is also important to make sure that items that are close together really are related as items that are close in proximity will be perceived as being related.

A consistent site map on the site can help to ground the site and make people feel in control. The site map becomes the ground and the information on each individual page then becomes the figure that people pay attention to. This also allows users to feel less overwhelmed, because rather than a new page of material every time they click, only the individual content changes and they can still see where they are at in the context of the site as a whole.

It's possible to reduce short-term memory load by having reminders on each page of other pages that they may want to navigate to next. This would be an example of symmetry or closure I believe since users don't need a full explanation of the page to understand where it will go - just a word, or an icon perhaps, will suffice.


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