ARC and User Interfaces

In Scientology, one of the most important ideas is called ARC, which stands for Affinity, Reality, and Communication.

I was thinking the other day about an interesting way that this applies to computing.

The first thing you have to realize is that as a programmer, your user interface is a Communication to the user. Over a very long distance, you are actually communicating something to the user. You happen to be communicating a window with some buttons and funny words in it, actually.

Now, it’s always mystified me why users like pretty interfaces that are impossible to use. That is, why does it sometimes seem like aesthetics is more important than usability? Well, one important thing to consider here is that the user will have to have some Affinity, or liking, for your user interface. People tend to have more affinity for pretty things. So the more “likable” your user interface is, the more effective your program is going to be. Of course, I think “likable” also includes usable, since I personally really dislike user interfaces that are hard to use. That is, my affinity for them is low. So, both “pretty” and “usable” are important to affinity, for user interfaces.

You as a programmer should also have some affinity for the user–generally if you’re thinking, “I’d like to help this nice guy be able to use my program better,” that’s a lot better than, “All my users are stupid and I don’t care if they can use this thing at all.”

The final aspect of the triangle is Reality, which we usually think of as agreement. Does your user know what that weird little icon means? Is there actually reality (agreement) between you and the user? There are lots of important pre-arranged agreements with computers that are important to remember. For example, “When I click the X button, the window will close.” That’s pretty much true on all operating systems (even Linux, which I’m using now). If I clicked the X button and I got a screen full of dancing pigs, I’d probably be annoyed (though slightly amused), because “dancing pigs” wasn’t really my reality, there.

All together, ARC adds up to Understanding. So, if users are having a hard time understanding your program, check which component you’re missing! Are you failing to communicate something? Is the affinity between you and the user too low? Or is there some missing reality (or some reality that you enforced upon them without their permission)?

There’s lots of ways to use this concept of ARC in user interface design, and lots of different ways it could go wrong. The items in the blog above are just examples, to sort of get your mind rolling on it.

-Max

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