Publication: StencilMaps and EphemeralMaps: spatially stable interfaces that highlight command subsets

Identifying a target command can be difficult and time-consuming when the user is unfamiliar with a software system. One technique for assisting command identification is to provide a subset interface that contains only a limited set of the system's capabilities. We examine the design of subset interfaces, showing that subsets can be presented separately to the full user interface (UI) (e.g. in a palette) or in place, with in-place methods using either static or dynamic methods to identify the subset. We introduce the StencilMap and EphemeralMap as in-place subset UIs that, respectively, use static and dynamic highlighting. Both StencilMaps and EphemeralMaps make all of an application's commands concurrently available for selection within a grid. To highlight subset items StencilMaps use a static dark semi-transparent 'stencil' overlay to de-emphasise all but the subset items; EphemeralMaps, in contrast, use a short delay, with subset items shown immediately, and other items gradually faded in. A first experiment compares user performance with the in-place presentation of StencilMaps against that of the separate presentation of a subset palette. Results confirm the predicted spatial memory benefits for StencilMaps. A second experiment analyses the performance impact of three approaches to highlighting: none, static highlighting in StencilMaps, and dynamic highlighting in EphemeralMaps. Results show an interesting trade-off - while highlighting can offer benefits in assisting rapid target identification (particularly when the user is unfamiliar with the interface layout), there can also be longer-term performance benefits when highlighting is absent because the increased difficulty of visual search promotes the use and formation of spatial memory

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Participants

Joey Scarr Carl Gutwin
University of Saskatchewan
Andy Cockburn
University of Canterbury
A. Bunt

Citation

Scarr, J., Gutwin, C., Cockburn, A., Bunt, A. 2015. StencilMaps and EphemeralMaps: spatially stable interfaces that highlight command subsets. In Behaviour & Information Technology, vol. 34 no. 11, 1092-1106. DOI=10.1080/0144929X.2015.1046927.

BibTeX

@article {410-stencilmaps,
author= {Joey Scarr and Carl Gutwin and Andy Cockburn and A. Bunt},
title= {StencilMaps and EphemeralMaps: spatially stable interfaces that highlight command subsets},
booktitle= {Behaviour & Information Technology},
year= {2015},
volume= {34},
number= {11},
pages= {1092-1106}
}