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Chapter 48. Coherent Objects > Coherent Application

Coherent Application

Visual Coherence may seem like a grand concept in theory, but it can hardly be said to be self-evident in practice. Fortunately, it has been researched. In one series of studies (Constantine 1996a) three different versions of a quasi-standard print dialog box were painstakingly constructed. All three were superficially plausible designs using the same number of visual components and the same number of visual groups, and all were laid out to similar aesthetic standards. The differences were in the degree of Visual Coherence. One design, the “structured” version, was highly organized, with a Visual Coherence of 62 percent; another, resembling the Windows common print dialog, had an intermediate Visual Coherence of 42 percent. The biggest challenge was to come up with a plausible but conceptually chaotic design. This “disordered” version had a Visual Coherence of only 29 percent, despite its reasonable appearance on the surface of things.

Professional software developers and user interface designers in the United States and Australia were recruited to evaluate the designs. They looked at each design in terms of how easy it was to understand, to use, and to learn to use based on various task scenarios. Aside from the one or two small blips of the sort that show up in all real-world data, the results came out much as would be predicted. Designs with greater Visual Coherence were considered to be easier to understand, easier to learn to use, and easier to use in practice, as indeed they are.


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