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RESEARCH ON INFORMATION UNDERSTANDABILITY IN INTERFACE DESIGN

Svetla Vassileva, Sofia Anguelova Abstract: This paper describes a research on the information understandability in software interface design. The study took place with Bachelor Degree students in their laboratory work in Software Ergonomics at the Technical University of Sofia. The goal is to find the optimal solution for displaying information content according to Gestalt principles. The research is focused on the relationship between information understandability and different interface layouts, colour schemes, metaphors and text visualizations. Subjective factors as users expectations and experience are also considered in interface design process. Keywords: software ergonomics, interface design, Gestalt principles, visual communication, engineering design education INTRODUCTION The study of visual perception offers the evidence that images of the world are not given, but constructed. Gestalt is a term coined by German psychologists in the 1920s which means "unified whole" and refers to the human visual perception. This theory attempts to describe how people tend to organize visual elements into groups or unified wholes. According to the Gestalt theory in the process of visual perception the following fundamental principles are applied: similarity, proximity, continuity, closure and symmetry [1, 3, 4]. similarity - features which look similar are grouped together perceptually. Items can be grouped based on similar color, shape, size, etc. Researches have shown that similarity by color and shape is a stronger grouping mechanism that using similarity by other traits such as contours. proximity - Features that are spatially close together are associated. continuity - The lines based on smooth continuity are preferred over abrupt changes of direction. closure - Interpretations which produce 'closed' rather than 'open' figures are favoured. Our minds react to patterns that are familiar, even though we often receive incomplete information. symmetry - symmetrical areas tend to be seen as figures against asymmetrical backgrounds. THESIS The main idea behind the so called principles of Gestalt that the sum of the whole is greater than its parts means that each of the individual parts has meaning on their own, but the meaning may change when they are taken together. Thus, in the case of a GUI we are interested in the perception of its components and composition of these components as a whole, since humans perception of the piece is based on our understanding of all the pieces working in harmony.

EXPERIMENT The aim of the experimental approach is to test the understandability of a GUI as an interface framework, holding concrete information content. This experiment is carried out with groups of Bachelor degree students within their laboratory work in Software Ergonomics and in essence is the checking of the Gestalt principles, already enumerated in the previous section, as well as evaluation of the overall impression the GUI could make on prospective users. As it is known, the GUI design includes the determination of background and foreground, screen density, elaboration of screen grid and layout, selection of font, color, icons, buttons, menus and other GUI components. Students are trained to pass through all these steps from the phase of conception to the phase of high-fidelity prototypes. Since the evaluation is obligatory at every phase of the interface design, the testing of Gestalt principles is introduced at every iteration of the design process.

a) similarity

b) proximity

c) closure

Figure 1. Three Gestalt principles illustrated by concrete GUI examples

One way to identify Gestalt information is to blur the graphic of a GUI [2] this approach imitates the result we obtain when we squint our eyes. If the GUI is not meaningful with this simple test, it is probable that the GUI is not well designed. So at the end of the experiment each group of students blurs their proposition for GUI and defines which could be the shortcomings in the overall impression, according to Gestalt principles that the GUI will make on prospective users. Below is an example of a sample GUI, captured and then blurred using Adobe Photoshop (fig. 2).

a)

b) Figure 2. Sample GUI a) captured and b) blurred

CONCLUSIONS The results from the experiment show that the students find new and considerable shortcomings of the GUI they design. Additionally, when applied correctly the approach presented above drives students to rationalize the fundamental concepts and principles of design. Thus, from more general perspective, the function of Gestalt Principles is that they help designers to organize a GUI, by providing specific type of stimuli, which are perceived by the users even before they have processed the specific information content, which is the actual text and details of the graphics. We find the testing of Gestalt information especially necessary and useful at the prototyping phase of the GUI design process. REFERENCES 1. Delchev, S., Basics of Design in Architecture, Technica, Sofia, pp. 82-97, 1993. 2. Levin, J., Gestalt Principles & Web Design home page, http://tepserver.ucsd.edu/~jlevin/gp/blurred/index.html, February 3, 2003. 3. Preece, J., Y. Rogers, H. Sharp, D. Benyon, S. Holland and T. Carey, Human-Computer Interaction, Harlow, England: Addison-Wesley, 1994. 4. Knauth, P., Arbeitswissenschaftliches Praktikum: Softwareergonomie, Institut fuer Industriebetriebslehre und industrielle Produktion, 2003 Svetla Lukanova Ivanova-Vassileva, Senior Assistant Professor, Department of Human Sciences and Design, Technical University of Sofia, Bulgaria, 1000 Sofia, Kliment Ochridski Blvd., 8, ph. 00359 2 9653233, vassileva@tu-sofia.bg Sofia Nikolaeva Anguelova, Assistant Professor, Department of Human Sciences and Design, Technical University of Sofia, Bulgaria, 1000 Sofia, Kliment Ochridski Blvd., 8, ph. 00359 2 9653233, sna@tu-sofia.bg