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Information organization in an interface refers to the presentation of information that is visible, accessible and usable by users. Information organization affects users' performance to a large degree in almost all tasks. Thus, it is a crucial aspect of windowing systems.

In the independent overlapping windows approach, each window is placed independently on the screen with possible overlaps. Due to increased information presence, this typically results in screen clutter and low visibility of information. In my observations, users typically could not find blocks of information (e.g. pieces of source code such as declaration section, modules, etc.) and the complexity of their interaction resulted in high block faults (50% of the block faults occurred in less than 10 seconds) where the desired information was not readily visible on the screen. Many windows overlap each other obscuring valuable information. Users easily get disoriented and lose track of the location of information. In my observations users tried to avoid that and typically arranged their window layout to be non-overlapping.

Kahn et al. [4] observe a similar phenomenon and call the presence of too many open windows ``Windowitis''. They observe that in Windowitis situations users become quickly disoriented, lose the semantic relationships that exist among windows due to loss of spatial cues, and become unproductive in completing their tasks. For example, when working on a program debugging task, programmers need to examine a number of program source-code windows simultaneously to determine the source of an error (Figure gif). However, this screen clutter typically leads to frustration as programmers lose the location of source-code windows. Malone [5] also observes that the way people organize papers on their desk helps them to structure their work and reminds them of unfinished tasks. However, increased clutter makes it harder for users to find information on the screen.


Bederson and Hollan [6] also observe that in traditional window-based systems there is no graphical depiction of the relationships among windows. This problem is most apparent in hypertext browsers and computer-aided design systems, where each window is either a linked hypertext document or part of the system under design, respectively. In current approaches, users have to deal with each window separately when organizing their desktops.

Metaphors are often employed in interface design to help users learn to use an application by facilitating the transfer of existing knowledge. In current systems, user interfaces exploit visual metaphors of physical objects such as documents and folders on a desktop. Applications are confined to overlapping rectangular windows on the desktop, similar to their physical counterparts (papers, calendar, calculator, etc.). Lansdale argues that these interfaces have not kept pace with user demands because they provide no added value over their traditional physical counterparts [7]. Although, the desktop metaphor simulates a real working environment with similar appearances of objects, it lacks an effective, scalable organization method.

However, improperly applied metaphors can decrease the usability, scalability and information density of the application considerably. Scalability of information organization in windowing systems is a critical issue. Organization metaphors should work when more and more information is stored. The desktop metaphor is found to be not quite scalable according to my observations. Users typically worked with few windows and opened multiple files in the same window especially for complex tasks, thus breaking the metaphor due to space scalability considerations. Screen space requirements of metaphors may limit the amount of screen space to display task-critical information. Each pixel on the screen should be used economically.

Information organization should be in harmony with users' perceptions of their roles [8, 9]. When users are working on a task in a role, they should have the most relevant objects regarding that role such as schedules, documents, correspondence with people, etc., all visually available. Information organization should remind them of their goals, related individuals, required tasks and scheduled events all within the context of their current role.

next up previous
Next: Access Up: Motivation Previous: Motivation

Eser Kandogan
Sun Sep 13 18:34:46 EDT 1998

Web Accessibility