Nice excerpt from “Humane Interface, The: New Directions for Designing Interactive Systems” by Jef Raskin, found from looking at a new Mozilla UX designer’s concept of mobile zoom web browsing + gestures.
If you wanted to design a navigation scheme intended to confuse, you might begin by making the interface mazelike. The maze would put you in a little room with a number of doors leading this way and that. The doors’ labels are usually short, cryptic, or iconic, and they may change or disappear, depending on where you’ve been. You cannot see what is on the other side of a door except by going through it, and when you have gone through, you may or may not be able to see the room you’ve just left. There may not be a way to get directly back at all. Some rooms may contain maps to part or all of the system of rooms, but you have to keep track of the relationship between the map representation and the rooms you are presented with; furthermore, maps are not well suited to situations best represented by three-dimensional networks. The rooms in this description correspond to computer interface windows and web sites, and the doors are the tabs, menus, or links that are provided to bring you to other windows or sites.
As legends and stories from ancient times inform us, humans always have been notoriously bad at mazes. If we could handle them easily, they wouldn’t be used as puzzles and traps. When using a complex program, I often find, deep in a submenu, a command or a check box that solves a problem I am having. When I run into the same problem a few weeks later, I cannot remember how I got to the box with the solution. We are not good at remembering long sequences of turnings, which is why mazes make good puzzles and why our present navigational schemes, used both within computers and on the web, often flummox the user. Many complaints about present systems are complaints about trying to navigate. Partial solutions, such as “favorite locations” in browsers, have been created . But what we are truly better at is remembering landmarks and positional cues, traits that evolution has bred into us and traits we can take advantage of in interface design.
This works until you have so many that you cannot remember what they all are; then you need a “favorites of favorites” or another scheme to keep track of them.
Why I blogged this: everyone remembers how to find things in different ways. Some people think their ‘mess’ is actually organised. Others organise by colours. Some of these issues span into my research interest of how spatial representations can increase/decrease the way we perceive the activities of others. For example, if a buddy’s location is indicated on a topographic, spatial map, would this make you feel a different connection to if they were represented in a hierarchical list?