Effects of Visual Distinctiveness on Learning and Retrieval in Icon ToolbarsDownload PDF

Published: 25 Apr 2020, Last Modified: 05 May 2023GI 2020Readers: Everyone
Keywords: icon design, visual consistency, learnability, selection
Abstract: Learnability is important in graphical interfaces because it supports the user’s transition to expertise. One aspect of GUI learnability is the degree to which the icons in toolbars and ribbons are identifiable and memorable – but current “flat” and “subtle” designs that promote strong visual consistency could hinder learning by reducing visual distinctiveness within a set of icons. There is little known, however, about the effects of visual distinctiveness of icons on selection performance and memorability. To address this gap, we carried out two studies using several icon sets with different degrees of visual distinctiveness, and compared how quickly people could learn and retrieve the icons. Our first study found no evidence that increasing colour or shape distinctiveness improved learning, but found that icons with concrete imagery were easier to learn. Our second study found similar results: there was no effect of increasing either colour or shape distinctiveness, but there was again a clear improvement for icons with recognizable imagery. Our results show that visual characteristics appear to affect UI learnability much less than the meaning of the icons' representations.
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