Concrete or Abstract User Interface?

  • Abbas MoallemEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 9169)


This study investigates what kind of mental image a design triggers when a user views the user interface and whether that image would be matched with the image of the real object in the user’s mind.

In this study, a standard scenario to design a remote control for lighting and temperature controls was given to 200 students completing an HCI course at graduate and undergraduate levels. The given scenario asked each student to provide a low fidelity prototype of a suggested design within a timeframe of 10 min. These prototypes were then classified and grouped into either concrete or abstract designs.

The results of these investigations show that a majority of participants perceive abstract representations for their design rather than concrete: a depiction of a real light switch to represent turning lights on and off.


UI design Paradigms UI designer Mental image 



Thanks all my students at San Jose State University who took part in this exercise.


  1. 1.
    Norman, D.: Some observation on mental model. In: Gentner, D., Stevens, A.L. (eds.) Mental Models. Lawrence Erlbaun Associate Inc., Hillsdale (1983). Psychology Press, 14 Jan 2014 - Psychology - p. 352Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Gentner, D., Stevens, A.L.: Psychology Press, p. 352, 14 Jan 2014 (1983)Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Johnson-Laird, P.N.: Mental Models. Harvard University Press, Cambridge (1983)Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Nielson, J.: Mental Models, 18 October 2010. Accessed 2 Feb 2015
  5. 5.
    Staggers, A., Norcio, A.F.: Mental models: concepts for human-computer interaction research. Int. J. Man-Mach. Stud. 38(4), 587–605 (1993). CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Qian, X., Yang, Y., Gong, Y.: The art of metaphor: a method for interface design based on mental models, VRCAI 2011. In: Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Virtual Reality Continuum and Its Applications in Industry (2011)Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Athhavankar, U.A.: Mental imagery as design tool. Int. J. Cybern. Syst. 28(1), 25–42 (1997)CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Charles W. Davidson College of EngineeringSan Jose State UniversitySan JoseUSA

Personalised recommendations