Reading Reflection: Where does the “Natural” Come from in Natural Design?

This week’s CGT512 reading chapter1 of “The Design of Everyday Things” by Donald Norman emphasizes natural design. For example, doors have to be designed with proper visual clues so that people will naturally know which side to open and close the door, as well as to pull or push the door. I understand that for relative simple designs as doors, there maybe a common consensus regarding which way is natural for most people, but for complicated computer systems, what is natural may mean different to different people. After all, what is “natural” and where “natural” comes from? Are the feelings of natural come from previous experiences and previous training? For example, I’ve used windows OS for years before I switched to Mac, then I would feel many things in the Mac OS odd at the very beginning. I still think iTunes is oddly difficult to use until now. Some people would feel the so-called “natural scrolling” on the new Mac OS Lion unnatural, because they’ve used the opposite way for so long. The relatively elderly people would feel everything electronic unnatural for them, but the millennial generation was born with them and feel all these electronic systems natural. For doors, because it has been existing for so long, so everybody knows about doors, but for electronic systems which did not exist at human origin, whether they are natural or not, depend at least partially on the generations or groups of people who live with them or were born with them. The feelings of natural at least partially come from people’s environment or habitat. With all these being said, I still believe there are certain level of common consensus of natural feelings wired into human brains that can be integrated into complicated computer systems design, such as movement, gestures, touch, orientation of directions, color, etc.

Another question kept popping up in my head is that what is the relative importance of rigorous UX research and intuitions of talented people? The UX book by Hartson and Pyla laid an iterative UX process lifecycle, but what I got from reading Steve Jobs’ biography (correct me if I’m wrong) is that Jobs never did user study, he just did what he believed was good for the users, and he hired very talented people to do the design. Many aspects of many Apple products get cited as good design practices in many UX textbooks, but they seem not necessarily produced based on the UX process lifecycle, they were just produced based on the understanding of a group of highly talented people. These geniuses tell the users what they want, and then the products they designed were put into UX textbooks to train future UX researchers. Are genius intuitions better than rigorous research results?

UI Enabling Both Associations and High-Level Categorization

In the last class of CGT512 (a HCI and UX class I’m taking this semester), when we discuss about the history of GUI, we briefly mentioned the Memex microfilm viewer described by Vannevar Bush in 1945. Memex reminds us that human brain works with associations and links rather than alphabetical orders or clearly defined categories. I’ve been having some interests in tagging, categorization, and information retrieval. I’ve also encountered some categorization problems in my life and research recently:

1. I moved to a new place recently–an exciting house! Okay, during the process of packing stuff, I tried to be very very organized. I put summer clothes, winter clothes, spring/fall clothes, shoes, kitchen stuffs, bath stuffs, etc. separately in different boxes, and marked them. But in the end, I lost my patience to categorize every tiny bit of things into the exact categories. I just couldn’t find a proper category for them or they belong to several different categories. Or I found something belong to a certain category but that box was already sealed. I also need to consider whether they belong to things that I will use quite often recently or can leave in the basement for long, but this sometimes conflicts with the previous categories I have set. I had such a headache trying to be organized and make my life easier looking for things when settle down at the new place, but there are still things I cannot remember where exactly I packed until now that I’ve been in the new house for almost three weeks. What I kept thinking during the process was that there gonna be a better way to organize stuff! According to the Memex philosophy, maybe I shouldn’t categorize the stuffs based on their same properties, I should organize them based on associations, but how? It seems the modern grocery stores are also thinking about this problem of how to organize their shelves to increase profit, such as the famous example of putting pampers and  beer together.

2. I’ve been working on a project analyzing some Twitter posts by engineering students. I retrieved all the tweets under a Twitter hashtag #engineeringProblems. I want to find some common rules in these students’ vocabulary so I can retrieve more relevant tweets in the future, but I couldn’t put these vocabulary under clearly separated categories using the topic modeling algorithms. The same words or phrases jump around several different categories. Should I manually force them into  clearly separate categories? Or should I just study keywords co-occurrence (association)? Or should I do both? How language is developed and organized?

I went back to re-read one of Dr.V’s blog posts written almost a year ago on tagging and information categorization. My understanding is that human brain works based on associations, and human brain also desires for control and clear overall pictures. I become very much intrigued about what a superb task management and information retrieval system interface will look like enabling both associations in human brain and also give the sense of control and clear categorization ?