Ideas world vs. Real world. What can Plato teach us about usability?
When Plato tried to teach his philosophy about ideas, could it be that he was thinking about how to design a web application? Maybe he wasn’t completely off topic…
According to his Allegory of the Cave, there were two worlds, the ideas world and the real world. In the ideas world we had the authentic representation of things. They were considered pure and immutable objects. However, in the real world things were shadows of those ideas perceived through our senses, therefore the image we get of ideas in the real world is highly influenced by the light deflected on them.
You can apply Plato’s wisdom to usability. When users interact with an application or web portal, they have a pre-defined idea of what they’re going to get. These pure and immutable ideas come from the needs the users have when they use the application and is our job as application designers and architects to capture and interpret them as accurately as possible to offer the users the functionality they are looking for the way they want it.
Here is an absurd example to illustrate: If you want to buy some fruit, go to a fruit stand, don’t see fruit anywhere or is difficult to find out where the fruit is, you will think you are mistaken and will go somewhere else. Right?
It is very important to know the target user of your applications. The better you know your users and how they get, process and understand the information and functionality of the applications, the better will be your design decisions and the lower will be the effort to use the applications.
You can play with a good contextual design to help you extract the familiar ideas and concepts for the users they expect to find when they use your application.
This will help the users to:
- Get use to the content and functionality faster
- Increase the confidence they have in the application –we trust what we know–
- Be more productive, maximizing their time and energy –those scarce resources nowadays–
- Find results that fulfill their expectations
Besides the contextual design field work and the results you can get from it, you can also use other methods to clarify the ideas –shed more light on them–. For example, use the graphical elements in your application to enforce its conceptual universe.
The final goal is to shed the necessary “light” on our application so the perception of the user is as close as possible to the ideas your users have in their minds.
Think of paradigmatic usable application: Google. I want to search the web, give me an input text box and a search button the magic starts clicking it.
Meet the author David de Alba
Usability and interaction design manager at Optimyth Software. With a strong background in web development, nowadays paving a new road to design more effective, simpler and more intuitive ways to interact with applications.