Over the past few years I have come to realize that I function and learn best using a specific set of senses or what some would call learning types. The basic types are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (http://forums.xisto.com/no_longer_exists/). A person can use a different style depending on the task. One example for me is reading. I hate to read; not the consuming information part because I love that but the physical act of reading. When given a book to read my eyes glaze over and I am usually instantly turned off to the idea. On the other hand I love to listen to audio books and I always have an audio book going in the car when I drive to work. Watching a movie about a book (one that is actually very similar to the book) is fine also but I would still prefer listening to the book rather than watching it. When it comes to consuming information in book form I am certainly an auditory learner.
This leads me to how you interact with your computer’s graphical user interface or GUI. One of the most common tasks is to open a specific program to do work. But how does your mind process the task of finding the right icon? As some background I have my start menu in the classic view with custom folders sorted by such categories as CD, Graphics, Internet, Microsoft Office, System, and so on. All of the folders are sorted alphabetically. Some of the more common icons are on my desktop and the most common are in the Quick Launch bar in the task bar (desktop and Quick Launch icons are not duplicated).
I will take for example opening Microsoft Word to do some writing. I always type my posts in Word because it has a built-in spell checker and I may want to do some formatting. In my mind I first see the Word form with no text in it. The phrase “Microsoft Word” never enters my mind but instead a location on the screen enters. In this case a shortcut to Word is in the Quick Launch so I see that in my mind. My eyes now start scanning the lower left screen and I pick the icon by color and not by any other attribute. In this case I know I am looking for a light blue color that corresponds to Word 2007. I then robotically click the icon and Word opens.
From this I can deduce that when interacting with the GUI my mind is mostly focused on location and color. Anything else including the shape or wording under the icon makes no difference. If there are two identical icons such as a file folder shortcut I will then look at the text but only as a last resort.
Two common situations back this up. The other night I installed a new program and despite the fact that I asked for an icon not to be placed on the desktop, it did so anyway. Vista is slightly different in that it inserts icons not at the end of existing icons but at the beginning under the recycle bin which results in all of the existing icons shifting down one space. When opening a particular text document on my desktop I always know it is in the first column on the very bottom. After installing a new program I instinctively clicked where I knew the document was and something completely different opened (both icons are white). It took me almost 30 seconds to figure out that happened and I deleted the rogue icon.
The second situation happens in the Internet folder of the start menu. I have Firefox and Filezilla right next to each other and they both have a red icon. The physical location is roughly the same and the icon color is roughly the same. At least several times a week I open up the wrong program because of the confusion.
My question is how to you find your icons on your GUI? Does your mind go for location and color like mine or do you look for shape, text under the icon, size, or perhaps something completely different?
First Things First ..
Gah! I almost forgot about that since I drove Vista back with a crucifix and a clove of garlic. What an annoying way of doing something. I mostly just know where the icon is if it is on my desktop. Otherwise I typically just press the key on my keyboard that the title starts with. Jst tap C and City of heroes is ready. Failing that I read the labels.
Vista is slightly different in that it inserts icons not at the end of existing icons but at the beginning under the recycle bin which results in all of the existing icons shifting down one space.
This is interesting to me because I do not use a GUI to open my programs. I prefer to use keyboard commands and keystrokes to open programs and complete tasks. So I suppose that I am at least in this sense immune to the type of confusion that you encounter.Not to say, of course, that there aren't problems with my method as well. Adding a new command or keystroke does take a small amount of time to get used to.