Wednesday, October 21, 2009

GUI Design Thoughts

Blackwood woods, on Wednesday

It's a short post this week: I'm feeling swamped.

When I do a lot of library instruction, I repeatedly return to this thought: Many computing activities try to mimic a physical environment.

Think the floppy disc icon = Save:

Think file folders for organization:

Think journal articles: our online bibliographic databases often display journal articles by (unintentionally?) making reference to the paper version of the journal. Paper is still the standard. But why do we need page numbers when Ctrl+F exists, for example?

Also, is continuously referring to a different format effective? At times it is sort of nice to have a physical representation to refer to. When I am in front of a class explaining what a journal is, I sometimes show students a printed journal. But does this get to the heart of scholarly communication? Is pointing to a physical object that an increasing number of students have never seen the best way to teach them about the relevance of scholarly publishing?

We are now working with students who have perhaps always done research at least partially online. I wonder how many of them have ever interacted with printed magazines and newspapers. While it's true that not everything is available full-text online, increasing numbers of items are born digital. It seems unfortunate to have to tether the digital objects to a frame of reference that in the future may no longer exist. But maybe this is a natural consequence of living in a transitional time.


  1. What's scary is today's kids might not even know what a floppy disc is...

  2. Exactly - that's why I think that icon has become detached from its original meaning & may not be recognizable as a physical object to a lot of students. Even I don't remember the last time I used a floppy disc. There needs to be a new symbol for "save" that doesn't refer to a physical object.