I interact, therefore I am

Connie, a self proclaimed “SND Groupie” comes to Denver from the cognitive science field. She is concerned with communicating content and instruction which overlaps with what news designers do every day.

Key points

  • Interactivity can improve cognitive performance and the connection between the mind and body.
  • Align the design model of your interface with the user’s mental model.
  • Organize design around conceptual, behavioral and visual considerations.
  • Usability testing can be quick and easy: Give the people simple tasks, ask them to talk out loud, sit back, take notes and learn about the errors in your product.

The power of interaction

People like, expect interactions and she recognizes designers want to give readers positive interactions.

“Interactivity involves a two-way exchange of engagement and response. It’s immediate and in real time.”

News used to always flow in one direction but interaction changes that entire picture. Interactivity offers users layered content, control and currency. It offers social experiences with comments, discussion and sharing. Interactivity also enables learning by constructing meaning, restructuring knowledge to define something fuzzy and unintentional learning. It helps people explore, solve problems and gain insights.

Attendees did raise the question about the power of giving control to the readers. It can lead to “wing-nut” comments but also the power from readers who can heighten the level of conversation.

Simple interactions can dramatically improve our cognitive experience. Speech gestures show how our body is intimately tied to thinking. People talk with their hands even when they are alone or on the phone. In a study with blind and sighted children, both groups used nearly the exact same gestures when communicating. When we use new tools, like a mouse or tablet, our mind extends to that interaction. These actions become a part of who people are.

Embodied cognition: Cognition arrives from bodily interactions in the world. We are not disembodied beings; the actions our bodies take are inseparable from our minds.

Creative positive experiences

It’s important to think about complaints people have, like errors, unclear directions, missing information, etc. When these things are wrong, people have poor experiences.

A mental model is a representation of something in the real world that we use to predict or explain behavior.

Mental models are based on prior experiences with something similar, something other people have said, incomplete facts and more. It can be like a subway map. A mental model can explain how something works and help you predict how to interact with something similar, so users don’t have to learn from scratch every time.

However, users’ mental models are subject to change, they get revised and define how we approach and solve problems. News designers need to consider the mental models of their users and your interfaces. The designer can control how to represent the program to the user.

What is usability?

Usability is composed of the learnability, retainability, efficiency of use and user satisfaction of a product.” – Constantine and Lockwood, 1999


Don’t make me think! – Steve Krug, 2005

The Washington Post’s Health Care Bill interactive graphic fits user mental models well. It has forms, fields, a drop down and a submit button but does not introduce anything new for the user to learn.

In La Tercerta’s Cathedral Restoration graphic, however, we can click on a magnifying glass, move it around and expect to see the image magnified. The magnifying glass shows what the Cathedral looks like cleaned up rather than a more detailed image. The mental model is mismatched here and the graphic seems broken.

Thinking about design

  1. Conceptual: Define the problem space, what will users do and get out of this interaction? Consider the time and pacing of the information and embrace the metaphors. Think about objects that already exist in our world.
  2. Behavioral: How will you map out the actions and reactions? How will the user get feedback, which they should have after every action?
  3. Visual: Think about your users and decide how visible the user interface needs to be. Items should be grouped and positioned while making all of the screens consistent and organized.

About Connie

Connie Malamed is an author and consultant with Connie Malamed Consulting. Visit her blogs Understanding Graphics and The eLearning Coach , check out her book Visual Language For Designers or follow her on Twitter at @cmalamed.

About Nina Mehta

Interaction, Experience and News designer. Human-Computer Interaction design Master's student at Indiana University in the School of Informatics.

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