What Do Users Prefer: Concrete or Abstract User Interface?

  • Abbas MoallemEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 9747)


In a previous study we reported that 71 % of the participants who created a UI for light control used a nonfigurative image of the object expressing an abstract meaning while 29 % used a concrete vision of a lighting fixture to illustrate the on and off functions. For the temperature control group, the breakdown was 52 % abstract and 48 % concrete.

In this follow-up study we first replicated an enhanced version of the previous study with 33 graduate students. Then we expanded the survey to the general population asking them to choose between the two options: Concrete and Abstract. The survey was administrated online and on paper to a population in Silicon Valley, California. The results show a 44 % preference for concrete designs versus 56 % for abstract designs. Thus, overall the abstract design preference was still higher. However, a slight difference was observed among older participants.


UI design Paradigms UI designer Mental image 



Thank you to all of my students who took part in this exercise.


  1. 1.
    Gerrit, C., et al.: Mental model. In: Jacko, J., Sears, A. (eds.) The Human Computer Interaction Handbook, pp. 52–80. Lawrence Erlbaum Associate Publisher, Mahwah (2003)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Norman, D.: Some observation on mental model. In: Gentner, D., Stevens, A.L. (eds.) Psychology, p. 352. Taylor & Francis, Abingdon (1983). 14 January 2014Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Johnson-Laird, P.N.: Mental models. Harvard University, Cambridge (1983)Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Gentner, D., Stevens, A.L.: Psychology Press, p. 352 (1983). 14 January 2014Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Nielson, J.: Mental Models, 18 October 2010. Accessed 2 Feb 2015
  6. 6.
    Staggers, A., Norcio, A.F.: Mental models: concepts for human-computer interaction research. Int. J. Man Mach. Stud. 38(4), 587–605 (1993)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
  8. 8.
    Qian, X., Yang, Y., Gong, Y.: The art of metaphor: a method for interface design based on mental models. In: VRCAI 2011: Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Virtual Reality Continuum and Its Applications in Industry (2011)Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Athavankar, U.A.: Mental imagery as design tool. Int. J. Cybern. Syst. 28(1), 25–42 (1997)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Waren, Y.: Cognitive Aspect of Computer Supported Tasks. Wiley, New York (1989)Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Moallem, A.: Concrete or abstract user interface? In: Kurosu, M. (ed.) Human-Computer Interaction. LNCS, vol. 9169, pp. 390–395. Springer, Heidelberg (2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Piaget, J.: Origins of Intelligence in the Child. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London (1936)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UX Experts LLC CupertinoUSA

Personalised recommendations