Thursday, August 23, 2007

MIT's 'clutter detector' could cut confusion

The effects of visual clutter has application to UI ...

"The danger of clutter--especially on a visual screen--is that it causes confusion that affects how well we perform tasks. To that end, visual clutter is a challenge for fighter pilots picking out a target, for people seeking important information in a user interface, and for web site and map designers, among others.

Now, a team of MIT scientists has identified a way to measure visual clutter. Their research, published Aug. 16 in the Journal of Vision, could lead to more user-friendly displays and maps, as well as tips for designers seeking to add an attention-grabbing element to a display.

"We lack a clear understanding of what clutter is, what features, attributes and factors are relevant, why it presents a problem and how to identify it," said Ruth Rosenholtz, principal research scientist in MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (BCS) and the paper's lead author.

The fact that one person's clutter is the next person's organized workspace makes it hard to come up with a universal measure of clutter. Rosenholtz and colleagues modeled what makes items in a display harder or easier to pick out. They used this model, which incorporates data on color, contrast and orientation, to come up with a software tool to measure visual clutter.

To be useful, such a tool has to capture the effect of clutter on performance. In their paper, Rosenholtz and her colleagues-- MIT BCS graduate student Yuanzhen Li and BCS undergraduate Lisa Nakano--tested the influence of clutter on searching for a symbol in a map, like an arrow indicating "you are here." They found good correlation between the time it takes to find a symbol in a map and the amount of clutter according to their measure.

In earlier work they also showed that their clutter detector correlates well with human subjective judgments of clutter. In that case, the team asked 20 people to rank 25 maps of the United States and San Francisco in order from most cluttered to least cluttered. The maps ranged from a gray and green map of the 50 states to a San Francisco Bay area map overlaid with lines, words and colors."    (Continued via MIT News Office)    [Usability Resources]

Clutter - Usability, User Interface Design

Clutter

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