Search and memory for images is known to be generally
faster and more robust than search and memory for words.
The desktop metaphor was intended to allow us to engage
these visual skills at the computer interface.
Yet studies show that average computer users
do not have a clear idea of where they save their data.
This "lost in dataspace" problem has been addressed with a variety
of focus+context approaches that add a small map or other
indication of one's location to the GUI.
But the same users who misplace files on a daily basis
are not nearly as lost in the real world -- we do not
need a map to find our way to the kitchen or locate our workplace each day.
There are familiar places where people do get lost, however:
big parking lots are one example.
The problem is obvious, though it has been largely overlooked in several decades of HCI research: scenery is what is missing. In current GUIs everything looks the same, and finding a particular file is as difficult as finding your car in a big parking garage. In this project we show that suitable scenery (distinctive appearance) can be automatically invented using computer graphics techniques. VisualIDs are a form of automatically generated persistent scenery applied to individual data objects such as files, for the purpose of providing faster and more effortless search over a working set of objects.
The VisualIDs approach makes use of the following (perhaps surprising) principle:
The appearance of an object does not need to be related to its content or meaning to the user.Humans are quite capable of learning arbitrary appearance and associating it to objects. This is fortunate, because automatically identifying content can be difficult, and identifying its meaning to the user is arguably impossible in general (see FAQ).
Our experiments show significantly improved speeds in a simulated file finding task after only a few minutes of use, and with no training. Second-day accuracy in locating data objects is dramatically increased when the data icon includes a VisualID. Examples of possible application scenarios are:
Supplementary material (pdf)
A Linux reference implementation and patches for the Nautilus file browser are under development by J. Rosen.