Sunday, July 23, 2006

Know When to Stop Designing, Quantitatively

A scholarly paper about interface efficiency ...

"Last time, we were talking about convincing the world that interface design is more than hand waving and color preferences by using Math (with a capital "M"). If you haven't already read that, you should go back and read it now. It'll give this article some context. And now, we dive in.

Which of the following two sentences contains more information?

1) Cogito ergo sum.
2) Shoes smell bad.

The first represents a foundational building block of Western rationalism, the second is a rather banal (albeit true) thought. The first sentence clearly has more meaning, yet they both contain the same amount of information. Why's that? Because they both have the same number of letters and use the same alphabet (see note). To get ahead of myself slightly, they both contain they same number of bits of information.

The lesson here is that "meaning" and "information" are distinct concepts. Meaning is something which can't be quantified, whereas information can. Meaning is subjective, information is objective. So how do you quantify information? In bits.

A bit is the fundamental unit of information. It represents the choice between two mutually exclusive things: a one or a zero; a left or a right; a Leche Flan or a chocolate mouse. (on the other hand, maybe I can have both). The choice between two things is said to contain one bit of information. Figuring out how many bits of information a choice contains is essentially a divide and conquer approach: the choice between four things can be broken into two steps of choosing between two groups of things, thus contains two bits of information. The choice between eight things can be broken into three steps of choosing between two groups of things, and so contains three bits of information. This is visually demonstrated below:"   (Continued via Humanized)       [Usability Resources]

Choice Between Eight Things - User Interface Design, Human Computer Interaction (HCI), Ergonomics

Choice Between Eight Things


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