Publication: Effects of Visual Distinctiveness on Learning and Retrieval in Icon Toolbars

Learnability is important in graphical interfaces because it supports the user's transition to expertise. One aspect of GUI learnability is the degree to which the icons in toolbars and ribbons are identifiable and memorable - but current “flat” and “subtle” designs that promote strong visual consistency could hinder learning by reducing visual distinctiveness within a set of icons. There is little known, however, about the effects of visual distinctiveness of icons on selection performance and memorability. To address this gap, we carried out two studies using several icon sets with different degrees of visual distinctiveness, and compared how quickly people could learn and retrieve the icons. Our first study found no evidence that increasing colour or shape distinctiveness improved learning, but found that icons with concrete imagery were easier to learn. Our second study found similar results: there was no effect of increasing either colour or shape distinctiveness, but there was again a clear improvement for icons with recognizable imagery. Our results show that visual characteristics appear to affect UI learnability much less than the meaning of the icons' representations.




Febi Chajadi Md. Sami Uddin
University of Saskatchewan
Carl Gutwin
University of Saskatchewan


Chajadi, F., Uddin, M., Gutwin, C. 2020. Effects of Visual Distinctiveness on Learning and Retrieval in Icon Toolbars. In Proceedings of the 46th Graphics Interface Conference, GI 2020. Toronto, ON, Canada. 11. To appear.


@inproceedings {560-effects_of_visual_distinctiveness_GI20_CR,
author= {Febi Chajadi and Md. Sami Uddin and Carl Gutwin},
title= {Effects of Visual Distinctiveness on Learning and Retrieval in Icon Toolbars},
booktitle= {Proceedings of the 46th Graphics Interface Conference},
year= {2020},
series= {GI 2020},
address= {Toronto, ON, Canada},
pages= {11}