Everybody has everyday experiences - Development of user interfaces with the support of basic sensory experiences

After a very inspiring presentation at the Usability Congress in Frankfurt last year, the topic "Designing intuitive use with the help of image schemas" has not left me alone. I am always looking for starting points to incorporate the presented considerations into my practical work. Unfortunately, it is not so easy to break away from the usual approach and therefore I am very happy that the former speaker Diana Löffler agreed to answer a few questions on the topic.

But first a short explanation ...

Image schemes are defined as "basic building blocks of recurrent basal (basic) experiences that are processed unconsciously by the brain. (Johnson, 1987)

So we understand exactly what it means when someone says they want to turn the temperature of a heater up or down. Up means it gets warmer and down means it gets colder. The method of Image Schemes abstracts and simplifies such experiences, and bases them on this basic pattern. These patterns are described in so-called metaphors. In the mentioned example it is the metaphor UP-DOWN, which describes that up is associated with more and down with less. Other examples are "the interest rates are falling" or "the rents are rising".

During the development of the method, the image schemata, the basic metaphors, which we always use unconsciously, were identified so that they can be used as a basis for the development of user interfaces.

The identification of the various metaphors that can be used as a basis for the development of the product is done directly from the everyday language of the user, e.g. by means of interviews. These are transcribed in a second step. The resulting essay forms the data basis for the identification of image-schematic metaphors, which are then determined in a third step from the individual statements of the users with the help of unique keywords.


During the development of the user interfaces, the metaphors determined form the basis for the design solution. The metaphors with the most frequent naming should be used as a basis. The designer is thus shown abstract design possibilities, which he then fills with life.

... to the interview

Ms. Löffler, you have been working for some time on the design of intuitive use with the help of image schemas. How did you come to this topic and what fascinates you most about it?

I came to this topic by working on the project "IBIS - Design of intuitive usability with image schemas", which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). In this approach I was particularly fascinated by the fact that design decisions are not made arbitrarily or copied from already existing technologies, but are derived from previous knowledge that humans have acquired since birth through daily interaction with the environment.

This realization that our thinking is significantly shaped by the interaction of our body with the environment is called Embodied Cognition. Consequently, not only our thinking influences our body, but our body also influences our thinking - even during the human-technology interaction. Image schemata and image-schematic metaphors map this prior knowledge and by taking this knowledge into account in design, innovations can be promoted that break with conventions on the level of expert technological knowledge, which we have laboriously acquired through a sensually highly restricted interaction with abstract software. Instead, our rich sensory-motor learning history is considered as an embodied mind.

The research project "IBIS - Design of intuitive use with image schemas", which you accompanied, examined the integration of the method in practice. What important insights for practice can be derived from the results?

As with the introduction of every new method, this is associated with additional time and effort, but this can be justified by the increased intuitive usability of the developed products. The additional time expenditure decreases strongly after the first application of the method.

A particularly unusual step is the analysis of the users' language and taking what is said literally. However, with the training material compiled in the project, developers or designers are able to acquire the necessary know-how themselves and achieve satisfactory results. Detailed results for application in practice can be found in the final report of the project.

The research on image schemes and their application in human-machine interaction is still in its infancy and a lot of time and work will be needed to establish the approach in practice. However, since I consider the approach to be very promising, I support its dissemination.

Can you briefly explain why it is not possible to start directly with the development of the design solution?

Because the (image-schematic) requirements must be known in order to align the design solutions accordingly. Without prior analysis of the user's language, it is not possible to identify image schemes and image-schematic metaphors corresponding to the work task, which are the building blocks of the user's mental model of the work task.

It is conceivable, however, that image-schematic metaphors may be documented for certain tasks, which can then be used in similar projects directly in the phase of developing design solutions. In addition, the well-documented primary metaphors can also be used without a prior language analysis. The ISCAT database represents such documentation.

Do you have tips for practitioners on how they can learn how to apply the method in order to benefit from your scientific findings as quickly as possible?

We frequently offer lectures on the topic of image schemes in design and a comprehensive manual on the method is available on the Internet at www.ibis-projekt.de. In general, I can only encourage you to try out the method once and to focus more on the role of the body and the sensory-motor learning history in the design than to constantly copy sometimes suboptimal technological conventions.

You are organizing a tutorial at the Human & Computer Conference 2014? What is the focus of the event?

In the half-day tutorial, all core steps of the method are carried out independently by the participants, i.e. interview statements are examined for image schemes, and image-schematic metaphors are formed and used in the design. My colleagues bring a wide variety of examples from the fields of software, hardware and mobile devices. This way, all steps of the method can be tried out by the participants.

Interview with Diana Löffler

Research associate and lecturer at the Chair of Psychological Ergonomics at the Institute for Human-Computer-Media of the Julius-Maximilians-University Würzburg.

Anja Stork

UX Consultant


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