“Everything one says about God is a metaphor.”
A metaphor is “a device” for seeing something in terms of something else.
It brings out the thisness of that or the thatness of a this.”
—Kenneth Burke, 1945
Let imagine if a 5 year-old kid asks you what internet is, how would we explain to him. We cannot simply read him the definition we get from Google. We will have to find a “metaphor” of internet to explain it to him, like the way we call a group of data is a file and a group files is a folder.
We will discuss below what internet metaphors are.
2. Internet Metaphor
a. What is Metaphor
Metaphor originates from the word “metaphora” which means to transfer, to carry over. We can understand it as the transference of the relation between one set of objects to another set for the purpose of brief explanation.
In interaction design, metaphors are everywhere, but the role of metaphor has often been misunderstood. Metaphor has been usually thought of as being limiting the idea and leading to faulty thinking about how products work. However, metaphor can be a powerful tool for designers, in both the process of designing and within the products themselves. Metaphor can help redefine design problems and help solve them. It can also provide cues to users how to understand new products by linking them to the products users used before.
b. What is Internet
According to Wordnet, internet is a computer network consisting of a worldwide network of computer networks that use the TCP/IP network protocols to facilitate data transmission and exchange.
According to The Oxford Dictionary of English, internet is a global computer network providing a variety of information and communication facilities, consisting of interconnected networks using standardized communication protocols.
c. Internet Metaphor
Internet metaphors came to exist for terminological reasons, i.e. they emerged due to the urgent need to give a name to things that did not exist previously. Metaphors can influence our views of the Internet, both providing us with possibilities and limiting other possibilities. “They can help people comprehend the new, the unseen, the unknown; but they can also mislead, sometimes deliberately, because the kinds of experience they purport to connect may be incommensurate.” (Wyatt, 2004)
Below, we will list out some internet metaphors we can find out.
1. Internet is like physical space. And sometimes it is called “cyberspace”.
Physical space metaphors included metaphors regarding transportation and physical structures. Each of these metaphors was rooted in a physical experience. People drive cars in slow lanes, so slow connections on the Internet get compared to slow lanes.
2. Internet is the information superhighway.
3. Internet is like the library. It has a ton of information and you can conveniently find out with simply a click. That is why we “browse” the internet.
4. Internet is an ocean. And it the reason we “surf ” the internet.
5. Internet is a web. HTML document is a book (webpage) and a collection of HTML documents is a place (website).
6. We like this metaphor the best. Internet is like oxygen. Although it is a joke, we believe most of us (not to say all of us) nowadays cannot live without the internet.
Metaphors are everywhere in interaction design. The desktop, like your desk, is where you keep your frequently accessed files, folders hold those files, so on and so forth. These are acceptable metaphors that are based on previously learned interactions.
We would like to highlight the fact that if internet metaphors have largely been motivated by the perception of internet users, there is also a reciprocal influence because Internet metaphors also structure our very perception of it.
Interface Design is a stage of product design that focuses on how the product looks and feels. Often the problems of look and feel are mistakenly thought to be the entire design problem. But look and feel is only successful if the other design issues have been carefully crafted first. Interface Design answers the question: “How does the product look and feel?” (Werby, O. (2008). Interfaces.com: Cognitive Tools for Product Designers. CreateSpace, USA)
2. Interface Design:
There are many different interface types.
We will give example of web design. Concern of web design is with how best to structure information at the interface to enable users to navigate and access it easily and quickly. Early websites were largely text-based and providing hyper-links. Nowadays, websites are more emphasis on making pages distinctive, striking, and pleasurable.
This is an example of good interface web design. This websites is based on flash. Although flash has some disadvantages like the need for plugins, long loading time, etc, it is still one of the best tools to create an interactive website. This website is about the third generation Toyota Prius. It allows user to “control” the car on the website. It is also aesthetically pleasing and neat, and is in accordance to the good design principles of proper affordance, visibility, feedback, consistency and constraints.
As from the example above, it can be seen that a good interface design needs to have good controls. The button controls are neatly laid in consistent pattern and locations. The controls are also in ideal positions so as to not obstruct the content from the user. Good controls improves the user experience and can improve real-time interactivity. Also this is an example of good navigatability, with relevant links and controls that do not force clutter, especially for website designs. Both good control and navigatability are crucial in determining a good interface design.
Below is an example of bad a website design according to the design principles. It is full of every bad thing you can think of – cheesy music, butterflies, seagulls, swans flapping all over the site, sparkly stars, growing flowers, a mad blue background and it’s absolutely smothered in crap images.
A bad interface design as shown in the example above, has bad control as the buttons are inconsistently scattered and unorganized (i.e. Index Page). They also obstruct content by being placed in the middle of the screen and in very large sizes, forcing to user to have to scroll the page just to view the content he wants. There is also bad navigatability from this, as the bad clutter confuses the user and makes navigation a hassle.
In order to have a good interaction design (in general) or interface design (in particular), we have to follow the Design Principles and Usability Goals.
Design Principles: Affordance, Visibility, Feedback, Consistency and Constraints.
Usability Goals: Effectiveness, Efficiency, Safety, Utility, Learnability and Memorability.
As per the earlier examples, aside from the visual design according to the design principles, good controls and navigatability are also as cruicial to the user experience. They should feel natural for the user according to the usability goals, and be effective, efficient, safe, relevant, easily learnable and memorable.