Natural mapping (interface design)

The term natural mappings comes from proper and natural arrangements for the relations between controls and their movements to the outcome from such action into the world. The real function of natural mappings is to reduce the need for any information from a user’s memory to perform a task. This term is widely used in the areas of human-computer interaction (HCI) and interactive design.[1]


Mapping vs. natural mapping

Mapping and natural mapping are very similar in that they are both used in relationship between controls and their movements and the result in the world. The only difference is that natural mapping provides users with properly organized controls for which users will immediately understand which control will perform which action.[1]

A simple design principle:

If a design depends upon labels, it may be faulty. Labels are important and often necessary, but the appropriate use of natural mappings can minimize the need for them. Wherever labels seem necessary, consider another design. [2]

Example of poor mapping and good mapping: kitchen stove

One good example to portrait such a phenomenon is the use of kitchen stove. The power of natural mapping can be shown from different arrangement of burners and controls on the kitchen stoves.

Poor mapping: arbitrary arrangement of stove controls[3]

In the above case, an arbitrary arrangement of controls, such as controls in a row, will visually frustrate the inexperienced users. Even though the burners are arranged in a rectangle, many modern designers may design the stoves in a way that novice users may require a period of experimenting with the controls to become familiar with the proper usage. In the real world, this may cause serious dangers to the users.[4]

Good mapping: full natural mapping of controls and burners[3]

Kitchen stove with full natural mapping of Controls

As clear as it is, good design such as the above stove, will provide the users immediate feedbacks on which controls activates which burners. The power of natural mappings will leave the users nothing but the ease of use with no frustration.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Norman, Donald A., "Knowledge in the Head and in the World". The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Book, 1988. 75
  2. ^ Norman, Donald A., "Knowledge in the Head and in the World". The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Book, 1988. 78
  3. ^ a b Norman, Donald A., "Knowledge in the Head and in the World". The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Book, 1988. 77
  4. ^ “Don’t Get Burned by Bad Mapping” by Wayne Greenwood

External links

See also

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