Mendel: Understanding the Relative Attentional Demands of the Dimension of Interface Consistency

Title: Understanding the Relative Attentional Demands of the Dimension of Interface Consistency

Jeremy Mendel

Dissertation Defense
1:00 PM, Wednesday, November 14th, Room 419 Brackett Hall

Dr. Rich Pak (advisor)
Dr. Leo Gugerty (committee member), Dr. Chris Pagano (committee member), and Dr. Joel Greenstein (committee member)

Abstract:

A consistent interface is thought to be beneficial because it allows users to draw on previous training and experience when operating a new interface. Design guidelines like the eight golden rules of interface design argue that a highly consistent interface improves system usability (Shneiderman, 1987). However, interface consistency is not monolithic; instead it is a complex, multidimensional construct. I refer to the two dimensions of interface consistency as perceptual consistency (the “appearance”) and conceptual consistency (the “functionality”) of an interface. Perceptual consistency considers aspects like interface layout and orientation; conceptual consistency considers how the system operates or responds. I sought to understand how combinations of these dimensions might affect performance and user perceptions of a system. For example, what if a system looks the same but operates differently? Results indicate that both an inconsistent appearance and an inconsistent functionality can hurt performance. Forcing consistency, however, may not be beneficial either. When there was a mismatch between dimensions (i.e., one was consistent and the other inconsistent) performance was worse than that of an entirely inconsistent version. Specifically, participants in the conceptual inconsistency and perceptual consistency condition (operates differently but looks the same) performed worse and reported higher workloads. Designers should encourage interface consistency by making systems that function similarly also share a similar appearance; however, when the systems are functionally disparate (i.e., they do different things) designers should take care to avoid implying similarities where they do not exist.

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