Mixed Modality and Single Modality Icons

Guastello, Traut, and Koreinek (1989) summarize several concepts suggesting the possible advantages of mixed modality icons (those containing both pictorial symbols and text labels) over single modality icons. The first concept, derived from the parallel processing theory of cognition, holds that the brain processes stimuli of mixed verbal and spatial content in both hemispheres simultaneously, and that mixed modality stimuli give individuals the chance to use their dominant hemi sphere to process that stimuli. The second concept, redundancy, states that in human information processing redundant information perceived through two channels simultaneously is processed faster and more reliably than information perceived through a single channel only. Researchers also speculate that labels serve to clarify the meaning of pictorial symbols (Bewley, et. al., 1983; Gittens, 1986; Krull, 1988) or that pictorial symbols help specify the meaning of text labels (Edigo and Patterson, 1988).
Measures and findings from selected studies comparing mixed modality and single modality icons:

Brems and Witten (1987) ...
measures = ease of learning and preference
preferred modality = mixed modality

Guastello, Traut, and Korienek (1989) ...
measures = meaningfulness
preferred modality = mixed modality

Edigo and Patterson (1988) ...
measures = time to complete tasks and selection errors
preferred modality = mixed modality

Bewley, Roberts, Schroit, and Verplank (1983) ...
measures = accurate identification, preference, recognition time
preferred modality = mixed modality preferred for learning; thereafter no preference over single modality pictorial

Kacmar and Carey (1991) ...
measures = accurate identification
preferred modality = mixed modality and single modality text

Chambers, et al (1992) ...
measures = accurate identification
preferred modality = single modality text for familiar functions; mixed modality for unfamiliar functions

Bewley, W., Roberts, T. L., Schroit, D., & Verplank, W. L. (1983). Human factors testing in the design of Xerox's 8010 "Star" office workstation. CHI '83 Conference Proceedings. (pp. 72-77). New York: Association for Computing Machinery.

Brems, D., & Witten, W. (1987). Learning and preference for icon-based interface. Proceedings of the Human Factors Society; 31st Annual Meeting (pp.125-129). Santa Monica, California: The Society.

Chambers, S., Alexander, J., Howard, Andre, T., O'Boyle, M., Eastman, V., & Motoyama, T. (1992). Symbol and word effectiveness for conveying photocopier functions in experienced photocopier users. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 74, 1203-1215.

Edigo, C. & Patterson, J. (1988). Pictures and category labels as navigational aids for catalog browsing. Human Factors in Computing Systems: CHI '88 Conference Proceedings (pp. 127-132). NewYork: Association for Computing Machinery.

Gittens, D. (1986). Icon-based human-computer interaction. International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, 24, 519-543.

Guastello, S., Traut, M., & Korienek, G. (1989). Verbal versus pictorial representations of objects in a human-computer interface. International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, 31(1), 99-120.

Kacmar, C., & Carey, J. (1991). Assesing the usability of icons in user interfaces. Behaviour & Information Technology, 10(6), 443-457.

Krull, R. (1988). If icon, why can't you? In Doheny-Farina, S. (Ed.), Effective documentation: what we have learned from research. Boston, MA: MIT Press.

More references for icon studies may be found in the Selected Bibliography of Empirical Research and Theory Related to Symbol/Signs for Human-Computer Interaction

Kira Nedzel King
Elizabeth Boling
Janet Annelli
Marty Bray
Dulce Cardenas
Theodore Frick

| IIRG! | Articles | Research | Links | References |

Assembled by the Interface Interest and Research Group (IIRG!) at Indiana University

last update 28 June 1995 ... questions and suggestions to eboling@indiana.edu
Instructional Systems Technology, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana
URL = http://www.indiana.edu/~iirg/RESEARCH/modality.html