When design says it all : visual information to improve product usability

Posted on April 20, 2007. Filed under: English |

There is a visual grammar we all share : forms, colors, surfaces, textures convey information about "dangerosity", "kiddyness", and generally about emotional appeal. I picked up the very good / and concise book "Visual Grammar" from Christian Leborg at the San Francisco MoMa Museum Store a few weeks ago. It tells you all about the concepts and words used to describe visual objects and structures (abstract and concrete).

A quick understanding of the different aspects of our brain regarding cognition splits it in 3 parts : left, right (both constituting the cortex) and reptilian (limbic system). The information travels / is processed at different speeds whether it is processed by the cortex or the limbic system. Emotions are treated much faster than higher thoughts because they need a quicker response for survival reasons (remnants from the old ages when we were fighting for our lives). The advances of neurology has precisely measured it : 110-120 ms for an emotional response, 400-500-600 ms for a conscious response (see Schupp's studies on emotional or neutral face recognition for more info). I attended a conference by French professor Roland Jouvent from CNRS that was quite interesting on that subject, albeit on a slightly different theme : physical vs psychical spaces, especially important when working with virtual and real environments. The simple processing of words require higher/conscious functions and simply takes more time. This is why many kitchen appliances try to convey danger information through simple design to prevent accidents.

Hot or cold ? A good design includes such visual information, but sometimes good ideas will only work in very specific environments, and this is especially true about this "color faucet". If the liquid that comes out of it is drinkable water, the addition of a color code to indicate the temperature conflicts with another color code : drinkable water is commonly believed as being transparent !

It would probably work in a more scientific setting for non drinkable water … But nevertheless I thought it was a neat idea !! 

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