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Natural Mapping


This appliance gets the better of me about half the time.  Instead of blaming my lame mental decoding, I choose to cite this as a usability issue: I just can’t make quick sense of those burner dials.

Shameful evidence of my attempt to make these controls more obvious.

I rate my ability to turn on the correct burner of my stovetop at about 50%.  That is pretty terrible, and while I make no claims of genius, I don’t think that I am that dense.  But maybe relatively slow minds like my own are good tests of usability…specifically, natural mapping.
Donald Norman, a leading usability consultant and author, discussed "natural mapping" in the first chapter of his excellent book, The Design of Everyday Things.  Natural mapping provides users controls whose arrangement and movement correlate directly to the real world, the goal of which is to provide users immediate understanding of the control and require of them less intermediate mental decoding.
Don uses the example of an automobile seat-tilt control that is shaped like a seat.  I used to drive a 1989 Lincoln Mark VII that had a seat tilt control that was shaped just like the seat itself.  Don’s right, it ruled -especially since this control is rather hidden near the floor and could only be found by groping around; pushing a little mini-seat around to control the real seat sure made things easier.
Every physical control ought to be a naturally mapped as possible.  I am surprised, though, that many default map interfaces are relying more on flat hypertext-y buttons to drive some very cool, fluid, navigation dimensions.  Text-only individual navigation buttons for each of the navigable dimensions requires additional mental decoding -wasted milliseconds.
What would a naturally mapped navigation toolset look like for a 3D Earth application?  Toss someone a basketball and ask them to find the label…and watch what they do.  That’s natural mapping.


John Nelson / IDV Solutions / john.nelson@idvsolutions.com


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