Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Notion of the Familiar: What User Interface Designers Can Learn From Island of St. Martin

At the end of every issue of “New Jersey” magazine, they have a single page story that is usually interesting. This month, they talk of Andy & Cheryl Susko’s bar & grill on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten. It’s in the magazine not because clothing is optional in the area, but because when the writer of the article strolled by the establishment he was immediately transported back to New Jersey. This is because Andy & Cheryl decorate the place with very recognizable signs and symbols from NJ. The hospitals, major roads, towns and parking signs paint an image in your head and create a feeling of being somewhere else. All this was accomplished through silly signs that didn’t cost much (customers actually bring them to them now).

When someone visits your website or uses your software application they are receptive to this same notion of the familiar. That is, if you provide it. If someone was to decorate their restaurant with symbols from an unfamiliar place, you’d get the opposite reaction. What is familiar to your users of your website or software? This can influence a lot of design components; Imagery, color scheme, labels, controls, layout, language, etc.

Speaking of language, a familiar term to NJ shore residents is “Benny,” which is a derogatory term for tourists who clog up the beaches each summer. Anyone designing a website for the NJ shore and need a familiar term?

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