Match between system and real world


The concept I’ve chosen is “match between the system and the real world.” Designs that successfully exhibit this trait use styles of communication that can be correctly interpreted by new users without specialized knowledge of the system. Bad examples are produced when a design team becomes too fluent in the “language” of a system, forgetting that new users lack the expert vocabulary and understanding of signals possessed by those who are already highly engaged with the system.

An example of a successful design is this microwave button panel . This example has some other design problems: notably, it has both a reset button and a pause/cancel button, which perform nearly identical but slightly redundant operations – quite confusing. However, the top row of six buttons, labeled with the names of food, make it so that the user does not have to guess how long their food will take to cook, and instead, can simply choose a time based on what kind of food it is. This is a perfect example of matching with the real world – the operations are in the user’s language (“What kind of food are you making?”) rather than the befuddling system language (“What is your required microwave cook time?”).

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The maps in Harvard’s library system are an example of a poor execution of this concept. Someone looking for the “microfilm room,” for example, would have to study the entire map to find the room, plan a route, and then might get turned around because the map does not precisely represent the features of the building. Instead of being listed out, the rooms are labeled directly on the map: a useless representation unless you happen to know the locations of rooms already, in which case you wouldn’t need the map. There is also a disconnect between the map’s representation of the physical space and the actual dimensions and contents of the building. Widener is unique in that it has very thick walls, and yet the walls on the maps are narrow lines. The map does not include “landmarks” that make up the building, such as the columns in the entrance. This makes it difficult to determine the relative locations of doors and sizes of rooms in reality, which is necessary when orienting oneself in an unfamiliar place. There are locations in the map that aren’t even accessible from this floor, and yet these are diagrammed in detail (note the stairwell just below the women’s bathroom labeled “No access on level 1”. Someone standing in the location of the map has other elevators closer to them – there is no reason to show anything more than a blank space in that area.) Amusingly, when I was studying the map for this assignment, a librarian walked over to me and said, “What are you looking for? Sometimes these maps are hard to understand.”


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The faulty map.

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The map’s narrow lines do not correlate to Widener’s wide walls (view of Main Stairs).

The following rough redesign of the west half of the building includes two lists of the rooms (bottom left: by order of room number; bottom right: alphabetical order), thicker walls and “landmarks” (such as the entryway columns) to be more representative of the physical space, and color marking of stairwells and elevators (this is color blind-accessible because the color marking only highlights important features, and does not provide any non-redundant information). Another idea is that it might be useful to show both the plan of the buildings and a section drawing showing the elevation differences, because the library system contains so many levels and half-levels, and this might aid orientation.

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About the author: alafler

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