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Lesson 3 Metaphors
Objective Describe how Metaphors apply in the Web interaction context.

Metaphors Physical Architecture

Web design relies heavily on metaphor, including even the way we talk about a Web site. For example, the idea of chat rooms is based on a metaphor of physical architecture (the Web site is compared to a house or a building). And the ubiquitous information superhighway metaphor compares the Internet to a road system.
Metaphors create meaning through implied comparisons between two things that are not inherently the same. For an example closer to home, consider the terminal that you are using now, with a desktop operating system using the metaphor of a real-life office to arrange files and functions (it might even include icons for folders, a recycle bin, and a briefcase).

Metaphors imply Meaning

Metaphors convey in a simple fashion what it would take a great deal of text to explain. If you have ever visited an e-commerce site, for example, you have no doubt seen a shopping cart or similar icon that holds your online purchases until you proceed to the checkout.

Metaphors interest users

You can see that there are practical reasons to employ metaphors when designing a site. Web users tend to enjoy rich metaphors, and for the designer.
A site with plain text and no metaphors can be boring. A site that employs novel or interesting metaphors may retain visitors' interest longer. For instance, a restaurant theme where each link is depicted as a food item instead of simply a list of links

Choose your metaphors wisely

People do not always interpret or react to words, icons, or other signs in the same way, especially if the signs represent abstract information. Also, consider the attributes of your audience when selecting or creating the signs in a Web site. For example, an elderly audience or an international audience might react to slang or pop icons very differently than a teenaged audience would. Choose metaphors and signs that will be widely understood and are appropriate to the Web site's audience.
Question: Why is the choice of Signs and Metaphors so important?
Answer: Signs and Metaphors affect the first impression that users will form about the site.
Well-designed Signs and Metaphors will keep users interested and help them understand the site layout.
Poorly designed Signs and Metaphors will confuse users about the Information Architecture.
In the next lesson, you will learn how Information Architecture organizes design information.

We hypothesized that the attributes of a document's genre determine a document's ability to be identified uniquely. Consequently, recognizing the genre will facilitate effective user-document interaction. In this pilot study, we exposed several participants to a set of paper and digital documents, each converted into two surrogates:
  1. one based on form, in which the text was masked leaving only the structure, and
  2. another on function, which reduced the document to its semantic content.
Our findings indicate that the form attributes of a genre play a significant role in the identification of corresponding documents, and suggest that genre can potentially serve as an interface metaphor.
Documents provide visual cues that enable users to conceptualize their form: in particular, the layout of a document contains distinctive features which alert the users to the type of content the document will likely contain. A user, even before reading the content, may recognize a document, for example, as a newspaper through the appearance of columns and headlines; an annual report features numerous tables, and a dictionary contains an alphabetic sequence of tabs. These features evolved as an efficient means of representing the semantic contents of particular types of information. As such, they trigger a user's recognition of socially-familiar discourses, in essence a user's mental model, to such a degree that if the words labelling the form were omitted, the functions of a document would remain perceptible and interpretable.