assorted-color shape toy lot




In the 1970s and 1980s Xerox Parc was a center for research on human behavior that impacts technology design. One of the research questions was how do people behave in physical environments, and how should that impact the design of computer technology? Xerox Parc researchers brought children into a room with toys and observed their play and interaction with the toys. One thing they noted was that the children would focus on a toy, then go over to it and take an action with it (move it, play with it, give it to another child, throw it around…). The researchers noticed that people (children and adults) tend to focus on an object and then take the action. The sequence is: object first, then action.

Up to that point in time a lot of computer interactions involved choosing an action first (I want to edit a word processing document) and then choosing the object (this is the file I want to work on). Part of the outcome of the Xerox Parc research was to change that order of events and have people choose the object first (a particular document) and then take an action on it (copy, open, edit, print).

When the researchers observed children they noticed that if the object was very large and couldn’t be picked up (a very large block for example), the children would push and drag it to a different location, rather than picking it up. They called this “drag and drop” and it was the conceptual idea behind what later became mouse interactions on computers.

Some of the most important decisions that you make as a designer have to do with what is called the “conceptual model” of the design. These include decisions you make about what the objects are that people will be interacting with, what to call those objects, what actions can be taken on the objects, and how you convey the information and task architecture to the user. Keep in mind, people will focus on objects first.


  • To make sure that what you are designing is intuitive to use, decide carefully (and hopefully based on research with your target audience) what the major objects are that people will be interacting with when they use your design.
  • Design the product so that it is easy for people to first choose an object, and then to take action on that object.


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