8/14/2009

Operating Systems and Learning Styles & Keyboarders vs Mousers

Very interesting thought courtesy of Caroline:
Mac is designed to be intuitive for visual/spatial learners which Windows (and even more so Linux) is designed for non-visual linear text-based learners. She commented that her mother found Windows more intuitive than Mac specifically because she was looking for a text-based way of completing an operation while she or I would look for a visual mouse-based way of doing the same thing.

(There is also a very strong argument to be made that many users are simply more accustomed to Windows and had they started off using Macs instead the situation would be much different - it has been shown through UI studies that our first interaction with a device shapes our internalized paradigm for how that device works and is supposed to be used - see the book The Design of Everyday Things for more)

This certainly seems to fit with my own experience: My mother and I find the Mac much easier and we both have nearly-identical spatial-non-linear learning styles while my father who is a linear thinker doesn't. And my sister who's learning style is a hybrid of mom and dad find the Mac just as frustrating as the PC (I think neither one is well-suited to her style of learning... whatever exactly that weird style is...). Most of my engineer and other linear learning style friends prefer Windows or Linux, while any artist/designer I've ever met is a Mac person. Having used all three I can definately conclude that the Mac is designed for the way I think while I have to work much harder to figure out how to use the others - I just know where to look for a given feature or option on the Mac because it was designed by and for people who think more like me.

Another interesting comparison is between mouse users and keyboarders (and trackpad, pen-tablet, and touchscreen users). I suspect that like the OS's, visual learners like myself are more inclined to use the mouse since is it inherently more visual/spatial, while more linear/non-visual learners prefer the keyboard. Both are quicker and more intuitive to their respective users. I remember and learn everything spatially/visually so I even remember my keyboard shortcuts by their physical locations on the keyboard (give me a different keyboard and I'm screwed!) and have to use a shortcut quite often before I can remember it. My Dad can remember a keyboard shortcut after only the first or second use though. For either user it is most efficient to keep one's hands in the same configuration instead of switching back and forth, so naturally we each try to find the best shortcuts for our preferred device. For keyboarders there are tons of excellent shortcuts built into all the OS's and great add-ons like Quicksilver and Butler for the Mac that make keyboard users efficiency gods.

Unfortunately mouse shortcuts have failed to keep pace. Users of the Mac at least have a fairly good starting point, and with customizations like hot-corners (so handy!!) can be pretty efficient. But the only equivalent of apps like Butler or Quicksilver that I know of is CocoaSuite which enables mouse-gestures for all Cocoa apps in Mac. (Cocoa is the native coding language of OS X and most new apps use it but there are some legacy or ported apps like Finder that use alternative languages.) There are app-specific mouse gestures available for Opera (ugh) and Firefox (ick), but these are limited in scope and power. I have to say that CocoaSuite is my new favorite add-on to the Mac, and I can't imagine computing without it.

(interestingly, I use keyboard shortcuts much more when I'm just on the laptop - the keyboard is much closer to the trackpad and there is no mouse to move back and forth between so clearly most of us can adapt to both conditions if the conditions warrant)

All of this clearly warrants further thought and research - sadly I'm unaware of any user testing on this subject though it would be the perfect research experiment. Are you listening Nielson Norman Group?

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