Friday, 6 September 2013

The look of the thing matters

Today, I was at a meeting. One of the speakers suggested that the details of the way information is displayed in an information visualisation doesn't matter. I beg to differ.

The food at lunchtime was partly finger-food and partly fork-food. Inevitably, I was talking with someone whilst serving myself, but my attention was drawn to the buffet when a simple expectation was violated. The forks looked like this: I expected them to be weighty and solid. But the one I picked up felt like this:

– i.e., insubstantial and plastic. The metallic look and the form gave an appearance that didn't match reality.

I remember a similar feeling of being slightly cheated when I first received a circular letter (from a charity) where the address was printed directly onto the envelope using a handwriting-like font and with a "proper" stamp (queen's head and all that). Even though I didn't recognise the handwriting, I immediately expected a personal letter inside – maybe an invitation to a wedding or a party. But no: an invitation to make a donation to the charity. That's not exciting.

The visual appearance of such objects introduces a dissonance between expectation and fact, forcing us to shift from type 1 (fast, intuitive) thinking to type 2 (slow, deliberate) thinking. As the fork example shows, it's possible to create this kind of dissonance in the natural (non-digital) world. But it's much, much easier in the digital world to deliberately or accidentally create false expectations. I'm sure I'm not the only person to feel cheated when this happens.

No comments:

Post a Comment