13

Displays, controls and virtual environments

Visual perception - there's more to it than meets the eye.

(Anon.)

The design of the displays and controls of a machine can either facilitate interaction or increase task difficulty and the probability of error. General principles for the design of displays and controls exist, but task analysis is normally required before these principles can be applied.
Principles for the design of visual displays
The German Gestalt psychologists in the first half of the twentieth century described how the way stimuli are structured determines how they are perceived. The structure of a display is superordinate to any particular element within it - hence the Gestalt dictum 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts'. Conscious perceptions result not just from an analysis of objects in the field of view but from a synthesis of the objects themselves and the relations between them. The Gestalt psychologists identified a number of laws by which the perceptual system was organised. These laws provide a framework for elementary discussion of the design of visual displays.
Figure-ground differentiation
Figure-ground differentiation is a fundamental step in perceptual processing in which
1. The perceived figure has form while the background is formless.
2. The figure appears to stand out against the background.

Since the perceptual system is of limited capacity, figure-ground differentiation can be seen as a way of reducing incoming data to manageable proportions. Although information in the figure receives preferential processing at the expense of ground information, the latter is not entirely lost. Ground information provides a context that influences the way the figure is perceived, demonstrating that ground information is processed beyond the physical level. In advertising, journalism and report writing, the use of special typefaces can influence the way a message is interpreted. Italic or bold letters may be used to convey important points.

-360-

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