Communicability, Paradigm of the Human Computer Interaction
In this document there appears a model who describes the stages associated with the development of users graphical interfaces, where a functional dimension is defined to the beginning of the Design in Visual Communication, which they facilitate the mediation of the information in the Human Computing context of the Interaction.
Usability, Design, Communication, Semiotics, Rhetoric of the image, Graphical User Interface, Cognitive Ergonomics.
In the Human Computer Interaction field, the design component of the Graphic User’s Interface is relevant for intervention of the different cognitive relationships that user sets unconsciously when interacts to any technological device. Understanding and identifying models related to design and development of this tangible visual element, will allow an approach to user logic and how we can reach effective and efficient results towards concretion of objectives set by user when requiring information.
Different theories and models related this action field, have caused confusions about what happens during interaction of interfaces and how we can design them according to users. Current approaches don’t concern epistemological reality; they just set a generic view of interface to total and subjective delivery under an aesthetic perspective, thus it concerns to a Visual Communication dimension, as a support of the verbal-iconic articulation of the different graphic elements which perform an absolutely functional purpose.
It’s there where a new theoretical planning emerges introducing a model defined as Communicability, this construct works in parallel to usage of an interface product, they relate synergically but they are completely different disciplines. On one hand Usability answers to the construction objectives and modeling of information; on the other hand, Communicability is the answer to the architecture of information, as foundation of visual layouts, which will facilitate recognition of interaction.
Towards an ontological approach of HCI
In the Human Computing Interaction context (HCI) there is some clearness about the definition of an interface, originally it was a physical device able to connect two different systems. According to the Dictionary of Computing (Oxford Science Publications, Oxford University Press, New Cork, 1983) the interface is : the limit in common between two systems, devices or programs. 
But this definition establishes an undefined situation about this limit in common; also it’s located under the physical dimension of the relationships among devices and later it’s necessary to determine the interface concept. An inner file of IBM 1087 (quote by Bonsiepe, 1993) defines an interface of a program as “an instrument which allows people and computers communicate” .
According to the Human Interface guideline 1995 edition from Apple, they are “rules and conventions which a computing system communicate its operator.”
In all these definitions we can appreciate the Interface concept evolution, where the idea of an information interchange is held; the interface is no longer a hardware device, but a group of processes, rules and conventions that allow communication between man and digital machines.
The interface is an interaction language between man and computer.
Pierre Levy (1992) proposed the interface as a “cognitive network of interactions” . Though he doesn’t define the concept it’s useful to measure the range of the relationships set by users in front of a device intervened for an interface.
It’s not possible to manage a univocal definition of interface, but we try to understand implication of a User’s Graphic Interface.
Figure1. Model representing the relationship between the disciplinary context and users.
We can infer there is an approach in concept according to the different relationships. In the HCI context we can say there are bidirectional communications between man and computer, because the visual device reports the system and its functionality. The Human responds to the different stimulations generated through communicative interface mediation, beginning in a mental preconception of action strategic objectives. We mean stimulations, communications, somehow the system connects human using interface, through a semiotic field where principles of perception are relevant to generate a positive disposition state for reception and communication of information to the system.
Each graphic component must allow users interact to interface in communication with the system (data), considering its visual treatment and coherence of syntactic and rhetoric relationships of the image.
The metaphor of the Interface
All metaphor implies searching a model somewhere else in other sequence, an isomorphic connection that help us understand and give direction to something. Metaphors are strong modeling agent of perception, thought and everyday actions; they are present in all semiotic systems and when they succeed articulate and give coherence to a discursive orientation, they became efficient rhetoric devices of persuasion. Somehow using metaphors in the interface allows communication, decreasing ranges of decoding, also facilitating recognition more than understanding. Metaphor enriches the concept, it’s a knowledgement, not barely a substitute (Eco, 1984) . The power and strength of image over text doesn’t get automatic cognitive goal processes to interaction according to the principle of direct manipulation, an object on the screen remains visible while user performs operations, and the impact of this operation on the object is immediately visible.
For example, a user can move a document dragging the representing icon from one place to another, or he may put the slide on a text field clicking on the spot where the “slide” should be. Instrumental Metaphor is more than a dialogue: “a mere message sending from user to objects (which are the most visible part of execution of the commandment, even modifying its own visual appearance”. (Marini, 1993:159) .
These aspects of perception as a tool of visual thought allow a communicative interaction and to create connection areas between the perceptive instrument and cognitive reflexion set by user, in the analysis of information objectives and goals. Perception and thought interact in practice: thoughts influence what we see and vice versa, through perception of the way how concepts are built, where the most pertinent features allow an association in association in preconcepted structures or acquired by culture. For example, things we usually see as a shape, maybe they are not, but mentally we create patterns in different simple shape, visual concepts or visual categories: Mind organizes environment based on its perception, it looks for visual elements of symmetry and adequation, they are base of nature, we perceived it this way and we try our environment has conceptual relationships with culturally known elements. This organization of environment perfection or elements observed, allow the distinction of relevant information according to associated conceptual structures. This is related to discrimination of visual objects display in an interface.
It’s important to consider that even though the metaphors of an interface were developed, they will never reach the threshold of message transparency. It’s an utopia the assumption of an unaware interface in an invisible dialogue during the interaction process.
The components of the interface metaphor are visual objects accomplishing the enlace function in the relationship stimulus-answer of the user; the graphic components are present and when they are perceived enter in a decoding process by user, this is not automatic relationship, it has to be assumed and learnt; although we refer to similar objects in different interface contexts, they will always be visually scanned and will begin a decoding process. Each component has a role to play such as channel of communication among interface interactions, this is important because it must help that affectivity levels reach the message target in its interaction context. The interfaces, as mediator agents, must create the context as a message resource, the pleasant stimulus at a visceral level in human behaviour assumes a positive disposition in front of the system; therefore visual relationships are message drivers, but before they are creators of emotional states which we expect they are always positive. It’s difficult to measure the message effectiveness using just graphic component of the interface, but we can measure its effectiveness through its interaction or perception.
A meaningful interface for users must articulate in balance: effectiveness of visual stimulus to create a context as a way of communication to sensitize from emotions caused by an interface system and to communicate clairly the usage functions of the system.
This is important because human beings tend to ignore objects when they are not familiar; this is an adaptative behaviour useful in biological terms (for objects, events and situations, although in an interface system that doesn’t work)an interface requires attention and when we interact we expect being guided by the system in the accomplishment of our goals the monotony of an interface system can distract, confuse and frustrate because it’s perceived in lack of treatment, elaboration and too flat (negative reaction in an interface system perception). Our level of aware reflexive attention let us determine which actions will be decided in front of visual stimulus perceived, then they will be decoded and contrasted with our objectives to react in front of the interface in a behavioural way.
Finally, the emotionality has an important role in the interface design, because it creates a context as a message channel and promotes interaction. We won’t conceive an interface design if the control of stimulus are not part in the configuration process of a working environment.
Understanding the Communicability Model
We must identify our interaction objectives of the system to work in the interface building, without them we cannot explore definition of any graphic component pertinent for our interface. These are the objectives that will allow to establish the key background regarding the synchronic relationship of three subsystems; User, Content and Context. These are the base of a system that must be faced as a process to achieve communication with the user.
These elements are the base of information architecture set out by Peter Morville, the ARGUS model, the iceberg of visuality construction of the User Graphic Interface.
The user’s definition looks for a profile in front of the system’s construction (software, web, multimedia): who it is, what features it has, if it belongs to a group of users with determined likes and if it has distinctive features that can influence in the interface design, to establish a user profile will get us close to an effective result when we should design an interface, knowing how the user thinks and to consider the user’s point of view is going to focus the development around it, the base component of the system.
Content, identification of content functions, what is relevant in constructing the information architecture based on useful information statement, will define the technical features of system implementation; it creates the technological frame of use, from the building of the different interaction relationships of user information. This information will be used and applied under a cultural and technological context that will affect the technical settings of implementation.
These three components are the foundation, the structural base of a design process and contruction of an interface. From this base there are two development ways that requiere different professional specialties and expertisses. USABILITY ans COMMUNICABILITY both from the very origin of the information, apply different methodological techniques for consideration in the developement of the interface modeling, and both can communicate and feedback themselves constantly during the prototype process of interface visual layout. In both specialties similar circumstancial phenomena are produced, I mean, they begin in a Turbulent Area, in this area all the analysis take place, ideas and visions of the system flow, where the process gets closer to the definition of implications in the development area. In the USABILITY case, this discipline tends to work in the Interaction Design context, it determines technical aspects of usage and application, and it evaluates considerations and usage standard principles of an interactive system. But COMMUNICABILITY is closer to the development field of Information Design, this is the discipline focused on working the articulation of a text, the information and image, the schematic definitions emerging in this development correspond to a deeper process than Usability intervention, from its origin and the background obtention to arrive to the interface visual proposal and its technical implementation. Communicability and Usability clarify ideas, observations and necessary connections in the development of interaction dynamics held by user.
In this process of paralell development of Communicability and Usability, both disciplines are processed and evaluated by another professional field: the Cognitive Ergonomics. A filter of process identification is produced, this the area that allows to evaluate development from a user’s point of view, how he thinks, how he will receive the proposed system, what reactions he will have in front of layouts. Somehow it’s the connection of a process linked through different moments of communication taking place during the paralell processes, they should respond to identification of non-considered aspects that belong to the user’s way of thinking and reacting.
We continue in the developing process of both disciplines and we found a second common filter, the Usability of Contents, developing dimension that evaluates if information and interactions correspond to the system standards, the Cognitive Ergonomics measures human aspects in the interaction and usability deals evaluation in the proposed system that considers usage standards requiring application.
So far we have considered Communicability and Usability as parallel dimensions including all their theorical aspects, related and in communication through different developing interactions using two common filters; from system’s and user’s point of view. But it’s not enough in the developing process towards interface, Communicability includes the whole process from the very beginning (system’s configuration, User, Content, Context) towards visual interface design.
This is the reason why the Communicability process, as an expert discipline, includes reaching the development of the visual level in the interface, where the necessary iconic-verbal elements articulate in order to establish an efficient communication with user. Communicability itself responds to the practical fusion of the four theoretical fields: Perception, Semiology, Rhetorical of the Image and Syntax of the Image.
Perception is related to external stimulus perceived by user which affect cognitive processes through sensible receptors, stimulus belong to the outside world and produces the first effect in the knowledge chain, it’s the qualitative order like cold, heat, hardness, jelly-like, red, white…it’s a physics, mechanics, thermal, chemical or electromagnetic energy that stimulates or activates a sensible receptor. Perception belongs to an inner, individual interior, to a psychological process of interpretation and knowledge of things and facts.
For the Communicability of the Interfaces, this aspect is relevant because of the stimulus research and their impact in communication with user. Each visual component being part of the interface is related through creation of sensorial interaction fields, which have a strong implication in first impression perceived by user when he visually scans an interface before interaction. Perceived elements create a sensitive state of knowledge, it’s the atmosphere so the user can adopt an attitude in front of the system he’s communicating with.
Semiology, the study of signs, this area of knowledge related to the interface tries to balance effective possibilities of the sign, either the metaphor impact application or connotations causing effects in user’s mental image, which is determined by culture. In an interface: shapes, drawings and colors can increase the strength in the message performance, or they can create a context to make relevant information reading easier for the user.
Rhetorical of the Image is the research about persuasion means that are available, thus graphic components are significant which may have different denoted associations or associated meanings. This is because when we define the user’s profile, to manage the cultural aspects that define his profile allow us to identify some significants which will be relevant in the recognition. This connection between the significant sign and what user interprets (meaning), if the relationship is close then the interaction will become more effective.
Syntax of the Image, the composition process is an important step in the visual problem’s solution. The decisions’ results lead the purpose and the meaning of the visual statement and they have strong implications on what user gets. Visual mode doesn’t describe absolute structural systems. How can we control our complex visual means with the certitude that at the end there will be a shared meaning? In language, syntax is the organized arrangement of words in an adequate way. Rules are defined and we only have to learn how to use them wisely. But in the context of visual alphabetization syntax can only mean the organized arrangement of parts, and we still have the problem of how the decisions will affect the ending result. There is no absolute rules, but some understanding of the results regarding meaning, if manage parts in some ways to get an organization of visual means.
Many points of view for understanding the meaning of visual shape, the syntactic potential of the structure in the visual alphabetizing, appear because of the research in the human perception process.
Communicability groups these disciplines as the basis of a new researching area responding to an instrumental vision of the associated theories, which are applied in a practical way during design of the visual image in the graphic user’s interface. Considering these theoretical aspects facilitates an approach to emotional exploration of the mediator component, relevant aspects, because it removes development instrumentality and humanizes mediation through connecting system and user.
Communicability takes from the usability area the associated principles of Aesthetics, peculiar and subjective definition of the implementation of message’s visual resources, being part of the development research area.
Mediation of Information cannot ever be considered under the elaborator’s subjective criteria, communication produced by human-computing interaction responds to a developmental logic completely functional, visual responds to the coordination of components and graphic techniques which respond to objective structures and pre-determined specifications in the proposed project, and they are defined at the beginning of the system’s configuration.
Once the Interface product is designed, this element allows typical considerations from user’s expectations. Interfaces in the interaction field accomplish communicative functions which respond to the expected objectives set by final user; but these objectives are driven by the different visual stimulus of the message being part in the interface design and they respond to the visceral behavior in the cognitive area, little lights guiding action behavior in the channel of user’s conscious reflection. This reflection, linked to the positive and satisfactory experience of reaching goals, can release memorable experiences of remembrance which associate interface product and its information mediated by user.
Communicability emerges because of the lack of an epistemological concept defining accurately theoretical phenomena, which take place in the constructive design process of a user’s graphic interface. Current definitions locate the human- computing meeting point, as an area without theoretical specificity; in consequence the author according his competences will face and solve the interaction problems mediated by an interface.
At this point beyond visual components that are part in communication with user, all of them are part of a functional process. This process must be perfectly linked and managed coherently, in order to facilitate its interpretation and to lead the stimulus in perception to produce positive and effective cognitive reactions.
Subjectivity in the action referential frame defined by Aesthetics, is just an inspiration in the usability principles, they don’t report the different processes and theoretical aspects taking place during development in the area of graphic user’s interface. At this point relationships among disciplines that belong to the visual communication area begin. Communicability includes the different theoretical disciplines that make possible to understand referential frame of considerations in the development of a graphic user’s interface.
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