What Moves? Culture & Interaction Design

Milan12-DAE-NiekdeSnoo-DrawingthePassageofTime.jpg“Drawing the Passage of Time” by Niek de Snoo; photo by Ray Hu

When What Is Natural for Some Is Not for Others: Culture and Design

I was in Asia, giving a talk. I was given a remote controller for advancing my slides. This one had with two buttons, one above the other. I dislike traditional slides with long streams of text that the speaker reads to the audience, so I have a rule: “No words.” Most of my slides are photographs. I was all ready for the first photograph, but when I pushed the upper button to advance to the slide, I was flustered: I went backwards through my slide set, not forward.

“How could this happen?” I wondered. To me, top obviously means forward, bottom backwards. The mapping is clear and obvious. If the buttons had been side-by-side, then the control would have been ambiguous: which comes first, right or left? It isn’t clear. But this controller used the correct mapping of top and bottom? Why was this control designed incorrectly?

I decided to use this as an example of design for the audience. I showed them the controller and asked: “to get to my next slide, which button should I push, the top or the button?” To my great surprise, the audience was split in their responses. Many thought that it should be the top button, just as I had thought. But a large number thought it should be the bottom.

What’s the correct answer? I discovered that as I asked this question around the world that some people firmly believe that it is the top button and some, just as firmly, believe it is the bottom button. Each is surprised to learn that someone might think differently. Who is correct? Both are.

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