Revisiting the slides, and the conversation afterward, has shown me how to state the argument more directly:
- As far as interaction on the computer desktop and the Web goes, navigational and spatial metaphors dominate. On a micro level we talk about direct manipulation of files via icons: Dragging, moving, opening and so on. On a macro level, we have addresses, visiting, and sitemaps.
- When a person has navigated to something, they can know what it is because of the navigation itself. For instance, you know you’re in London because you followed all the signposts to London.
- In a world of cheap sensors, many, many display surfaces, and high connectivity, we are presented with information without that navigational context. Furthermore, in areas which have traditionally used the navigational metaphor (mainly the Web), navigation might not be the most appropriate approach to reading the news, buying books, or hanging out in chatrooms. Yet still we approach Web design armed with this metaphor.
- It’s as important that a thing can be instantly appreciated for what it is, as that it can be navigated to. ‘Instantly appreciate’ means comprehend pre-consciously, just as we instantly appreciate a chair as a chair when looking at it, without having to deliberately deduce the meaning of the pattern of light on our retina.
- As a guide to what qualities we should be able to instantly appreciate, we can use human and animal senses to show what features we need to recognise of things in the environment. Sensing these features is sufficient to let us intelligently interact, without navigating.
- To summarise these features, we need to be able to detect: Structure, focus and periphery, rhythms of activity, summaries, how this particular thing is situated in the larger environment (and more). The Web browser, as our sensory organs online, should do this job, instead of leaving it to the websites themselves.
Applying the sensory model to Web design triggers a few ideas:
- The high-level structure of all sites should be represented by the browser in a consistent way, not by each site differently.
- Regular patterns in browsing (such as the sites visited daily or weekly) should be supported by the browser.
- Using the extracted keywords of a web page as its ‘scent,’ hyperlinks should indicate how their odour strengthens or detracts from the smell of the current browsing trail.
There are more ideas, but that’s what the presentation discusses and illustrates.
Incidentally, the image at the top of this post is from J. J. Gibson’s The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, which talks about how we see continuously and actively as we move through space. I’d like to consider browsing the Web in the same light.