Week 4 Lecture Notes

Interaction is a recurrent aspect of our day-to-day lives, ranging from when we use smart phones, to changing the toner cartridge in a printer. Before these actions can become second nature, they must  be learnt and thus creates the necessity for instructions to first inform the user. As a tool designed to direct and teach, it is imperative for a designer to create any instructional piece with clarity and an understanding of cultural norms.

Working Memory

Designing effective instructions requires more than visual coherency. Cognitive load theory, which delves into how the mind perceives information, suggests that instructions that suffer from disparate designs and a disconnection between imagery and text require the user to hold more information at any one time. Due to the limited capacity of one’s short term memory, requiring more from a user than they’re able can cause frustration while also presenting an additional obstacle in reaching their goal.

Information seperate to a diagram, versus intergrated within it.

Being direct

The ability of any set of instructions to convey meaning to a user relies on the clarity of information given and an understanding of how that information will be perceived. Photographic representations of an action taking place can be difficult to understand due in part to a lack of clear visual indication. In comparison, simple line diagrams offer a much more concise means of conveying information by discarding unnecessary detail and through the utilisation of colour to differentiate and highlight important details. The flow of any instruction runs the risk of misinterpretation without the inclusion of sufficient direction. Furthermore, a designer should look into recognising any cultural barriers their instructions may pose due to a difference in cultural norms and perception.

Simple and direct instructions for IKEA furniture.


Alberto Cairo (2013) condensed the possibilities of an interactive screen-based experience into the following categories:

The user interacts by inputting commands through the pressing of buttons thus directing the interactive to perform a task.

The dialogue exchanged between the user and the interactive. By providing details, the experience can be tailored to provide specific feedback.

The users ability to alter and change the contents of an interaction (e.g. moving and creating folders on a desktop computer).

An interactive that provides its user with an open-ended experience. One that allows for trial and error. (e.g. a digitally recreated world that the user can travel within).

The video game Myst allowed users to navigate its world by clicking a mouse.

Challenges and Opportunities

When creating interactives for a screen, there are a number of barriers and possibilities a developer must consider. While screens can pose the issue of space availabity, this can be negated through layered designs which enable an interactive to span several screens. A designer must consider what a user expects of and how they will use a set of instructions. Providing a sense of control for the user is also vital in providing a satisfactory experience. On screen indication and a consistent level of feedback all contribute to the ability of a user to successfully navigate an interactive.

Final thoughts

The task of any set of instructions should be to direct a user to perform a specific task through the employment of concise language and clear imagery. Like all interactive design, there should be care taken when creating instructions in order to void the risk of misinterpretation and thereby alienating the end user. Ideally, a designer should attempt to place themselves in the perspective of their audience and identify any potential barriers while providing an experience that’s as direct as possible for as wide an audience as possible.

BagoGames. (2015). Myst videogame [Screenshot]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/bagogames/17396566235
Cairo, A. (2013). The functional art: An introduction to information graphics and visualisation. Berkley, CA: New Riders.
GregMontani. (2016). Directory mountains alpine hiking [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/directory-mountains-alpine-hiking-1495843/
Hobson, S. (2010). Ikea instructions [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/seanhobson/4380105315
Tarmizi, R.A. (1988). Split attention [Graphic]. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Split_attention2.gif

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