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Metaphors-1

Metaphors-1 - Do Metaphors Make Web Browsers Easier to Use...

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Do Metaphors Make Web Browsers Easier to Use? Elissa D. Smilowitz Claris Corporation 5201 Patrick Henry Drive, MS: C-62 Santa Clara, CA 95052 (408) 987-7508 [email protected] ABSTRACT Since Visicalc’s metaphorical ledger and the Xerox Star’s desktop metaphor, interface designers have been incorporating metaphors into user interfaces. User interface guidelines for most of the popular operating systems encourage the use of metaphors in interface design. They suggest that applications should build on the user’s real-world experience by exploiting concrete metaphors thereby making applications easier to use. Surprisingly little research supports the popular belief that metaphors in user interfaces facilitate performance. This research explores the use of metaphors in interface design. Are user interface (UI) metaphors effective in facilitating performance, and if so, how can they be designed to be most effective? The World Wide Web serves as the application domain for this research. A series of experiments show that UI metaphors can facilitate users’ interactions. However, various metaphors are not equally effective, some are no better than non- metaphoric interfaces. In Experiment 1, a metaphoric interface was better than a non-metaphoric interface, and icons did not contribute to the effectiveness of the metaphor. In Experiment 2, a good integral metaphor was superior to a composite metaphor. These findings contribute to user interface design by establishing some of the characteristics of effective metaphoric interfaces. Furthermore, it provides some practical directions for a UI metaphor for the World Wide Web. KEYWORDS: Metaphors, user interface design, empirical evaluation, Internet, World Wide Web, Mosaic INTRODUCTION Metaphors are ubiquitous in the user interfaces of today’s computers. Software designers are incorporating metaphors into a variety of software from operating systems to information retrieval applications. Technological advances have made more and more realistic depiction of these metaphors possible. However, technological feasibility does not insure psychological utility. The motivations for using metaphor in the design of user interfaces are similar to the reasons metaphors have long been popular in education. Many educators have observed that giving students comparisons can help them learn. For example, an analogy commonly used in teaching about electricity is “Electricity is like water”. Imagine electricity flowing as water does. You can then imagine the wires as pipes carrying water (electrons). It follows that your wall plug can be thought of as a high-pressure source which can be tapped by inserting a plug [6]. These types of comparisons are also used in teaching in the domain of human-
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computer interaction. For example, a physical metaphor for electronic storage is to think of “storage locations as buckets.” Experimental studies of the effectiveness of metaphor in teaching programming concepts have been conducted. Mayer showed that many programming constructs in BASIC (i.e., memory
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