Relying on previous interface

trio In his Language of Interaction talk at Interaction08, Bill DeRouchey addresses an interesting issue: how people learn how to use technology from other technology. Given the quantity of consumer electronics that surround us, people become more tech-savvy and learn from experience with other products, it then turns into expectations about how a new device will function. As DeRouchey points out:

"When we figure out a new product, we look for familiar visual cues to guide us, elements that we have seen before in other products and have learned in the past. It’s very natural and normal: we learn from experience. Our brains are always looking for the patterns in what we see, trying to find the consistency, looking for the language. We subconsciously latch onto the most familiar interface elements and construct the instructions from there. (...) Washing machines from companies like LG now use the play/pause icon. Even though it originally meant make the tape play, when someone encounters a right-pointing triangle and two vertical bars on a washing machine, without any accompanying labels, they immediately understand that it means start and stop, because they’ve learned that from other technology."

A relevant example here is the one described in "Mobile Usability: How Nokia Changed the Face of the Mobile Phone" (Christian Lindholm, Turkka Keinonen) which describes the design rationale for a past Nokia interface:

"Consumers knew arrows from several other devices such as remote control (...) The C-Key /c for clearing) was also considered intuitive. It was very well known from previous Nokia phones and from all calculators. Only later did we discover a drawback - because our concept lacked a SEND key, users also found it intuitive to understand C as call"

Why do I blog this? no big theory here but some relevant practical point and example, showing the conscious effort by interaction designers to rely on past knowledge and expectations.

Directly connected to my earlier post about the interface transition from common artifacts to new one.