5 Principles of User-Centered Navigation

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One of the most important concepts in navigation is that it should be easily learned. If it takes too long to grasp the navigational flow of a program, the user will become frustrated and lose interest. An easily learned navigation structure is the first step in creating user satisfaction. Instructions can be useful, but the navigation concepts should be intuitive enough that an excessive amount of preparation is not necessary.

“The interactive artist must strike a balance between the interactor’s sense of control, which enforces identification, and the richness of the responsive system’s behaviour, which keep the system from becoming closed.” – (Rokeby, 2002)

Another important concept to help the user maintain a sense of spatial orientation is to remain consistent. From the audience perspective, this means not only a consistent look and feel to the physical interfaces, but also that the interactive cinema presentation responds to similar senor data in similar ways. If a user waves their arms, for example, and this is a method of interaction with the piece, the movie should respond in a logical manner, and respond in the same manner if the user repeats the action (unless a sense of abstraction is desired in the particular piece).

“Because explicit interactivity is still a relatively new feature in artworks, the audience often approaches the works with skepticism. The audience requires proof that the work is interactive… The proof that will most easily satisfy the audience is predictability (i.e. if one makes the same action twice, the work will respond identically each time). Unfortunately, this test only works for simple interactive devices with no memory and no ability to adapt.” – (Rokeby, 2002)

A feedback mechanism is crucial for effective navigation: the user needs to feel that their actions have meaning. For an audience navigating an interactive cinema presentation, feedback could come as sound cues, visual cues, tactile cues, etc. A sound cue could be a noise generated when a user steps into a certain area of the environment. A visual cue could be that when a user steps into a certain area of the environment, not only does a sound play, but the movie changes in response to the user’s position.

“The issue of who is controlling whom becomes blurred. The intelligence of the human interactors spreads around the whole loop, often coming back in ways they don’t recognize, causing them to attribute intelligence to the system.” – (Rokeby, 1998)

The navigational tools should be based on the goals of the user, meaning that they should appear in context and support the flow of the composition. Also, does the navigational structure support users coming from different technical or cultural backgrounds? Along with meeting the user’s goals, the navigation structure should also be appropriate and support the interactive environment. It is often desirable in an interactive installation to have a transparent interface because it allows the user to participate without having to consider their direct relationship with the underlying system, but no interface can be completely transparent. The most one can hope for is that the interface be so well integrated as to be subconsciously accepted by the interactor as transparent.

“When an interface is accepted as transparent, the user and his or her world are changed; the transforming characteristics of the interface, no longer contained by a visible apparatus, are incorporated into the user and the user’s world view.” – (Rokeby, 2002)

To summarize, here are 5 principles of user-centered navigation:

  1. Be easily learned.
  2. Remain consistent.
  3. Provide feedback.
  4. Appear in context.
  5. Support the user’s goals.

Works Citied:

Rokeby, David. The Construction of Experience: Interface as Content in “Digital Illusion: Entertaining the Future with High Technology,” Clark Dodsworth, Jr., Contributing Editor. ACM Press. 1998.

Rokeby, David. “Transforming Mirrors.” http://www.interlog.com/~drokeby/mirrorsintro.html. Accessed Dec. 15th 2002.

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Adrian, or AJ, is the founder and Director of Technology of Pop Digital. He has spoken at tech conferences around the world, and published numerous articles about Agile methodologies, UX design, Information Architecture, and Web Development.

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