Icons in a graphical user interface have to be effective and to achieve this the designer and the user need to share a visual vocabulary. The designer needs to familiarize himself or herself with the context in which the system is intended to be used.
The users interpretation of an icon is based on the context and his or hers earlier experiences. This makes it hard for the designer to predict how the communication between the user and the system will flow.
To find a solution to this problem this study investigates how and which factors in icon that contribute to this communication. This study focuses on functions that is depended on a context convey its meaning correctly and don’t have an earlier known representation connected to it. It is an empirical study with an qualitative approach.
This study includes a survey to identify which of the 23 newly developed icons that can be correctly interpreted without a context and to filter out those icons that will be used in the interview.
The interview is focused on how the context will influence the respondents interpretations. The icons will be placed in a context representing the final system where they will be used at a later date.
The interviews identified three factors which affects the users interpretation of the icon in a graphical user interface. One of these factors was the icons location and the elements that were nearby.
Another affecting factor were if the design of these icons included previously known signs as arrows or plus and minus signs. Same aspect applies to icons in which the design included cultural elements as American college hats. The last affecting factor was the users expectations of the systems functions, what they were and their prior experience of similar systems.
The consequences of this study are that when designing icons to be used in a graphical user interface the icon when needed should be evaluated in the intended context. This is because some of the functions shall be communicated properly.
The context the icon is located in helps the user interpret what function the icon represents. The knowledge these conclusions provide could be used to create signs that only certain groups in the society can interpret and understand. This consequence will help to divide the different groups in society.
Three factors have been identified in this study that influences the communication between humans and computer. Through the understanding of what influences the communication actions can be made to improve it and to create more usable digital systems.
This knowledge will be useful in every situation where speed and accuracy is of key factors while transferring information between human and computer.
The thesis is written in Swedish.