“VisualIDs: automatic distinctive icons for desktop interfaces” by Lewis, Rosenholtz, Fong and Neumann

  • ©J. P. Lewis, Ruth Rosenholtz, Nickson Fong, and Ulrich Neumann




    VisualIDs: automatic distinctive icons for desktop interfaces



    Although existing GUIs have a sense of space, they provide no sense of place. Numerous studies report that users misplace files and have trouble wayfinding in virtual worlds despite the fact that people have remarkable visual and spatial abilities. This issue is considered in the human-computer interface field and has been addressed with alternate display/navigation schemes. Our paper presents a fundamentally graphics based approach to this ‘lost in hyperspace’ problem. Specifically, we propose that spatial display of files is not sufficient to engage our visual skills; scenery (distinctive visual appearance) is needed as well. While scenery (in the form of custom icon assignments) is already possible in current operating systems, few if any users take the time to manually assign icons to all their files. As such, our proposal is to generate visually distinctive icons (“VisualIDs”) automatically, while allowing the user to replace the icon if desired. The paper discusses psychological and conceptual issues relating to icons, visual memory, and the necessary relation of scenery to data. A particular icon generation algorithm is described; subjects using these icons in simulated file search and recall tasks show significantly improved performance with little effort. Although the incorporation of scenery in a graphical user interface will introduce many new (and interesting) design problems that cannot be addressed in this paper, we show that automatically created scenery is both beneficial and feasible.


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