A convention or cultural convention is a culture of some kind from a country to graphic designers dictating how a curtain object is to be used or task to be done generally. Examples include in the US we drive on the right side of the road and by extension when two doors and you cant see through them you use the right as the left could have some one going though it toward you. Conventions are learned uses for a thing and different from affordances which are all possible uses for a thing and conventions are closer to perceived affordances. Other examples of conventions are in graphic design. It is the convention to give a 1/8in bleed on standard printed items. That is from many experiences with printers usually wanting 1/8in bleeds so it has become the convention for both printers and graphic designers.
I found relevant digital interactive design from Don Norman and I wish it was in his design of every day objects book. This quote is about clickable looking things in digital form.
“In similar vein it is wrong to claim that the design of a graphical object on the screen “affords clicking.” Sure, you can click on the object, but you can click anywhere. Yes, the object provides a target and it helps the user know where to click and maybe even what to expect in return, but those aren’t affordances, those are conventions, and feedback, and the like. This is what the interface designer should care about: Does the user perceive that clicking on that object is a meaningful, useful action, with a known outcome?” -Don Norman, Accordance, Conventions and Design.
I found this helpful with our calculator application demonstrations. For many things were not well distinguished as to what was and was not clickable. Part of this was low resolution paper sketches and part was design errors. It is difficult to make a digital thing seem clickable. Many conventions have come into play to help with this. Such as making a button look some what like a physical say keyboard button and looks dimensional and may change when you cover/click it. Also such things as underlines and navy blue to show its a link has become the convention for link but not for buttons and most buttons unless it is an icon are not hyperlinks to other websites. A button maybe a link to an other page and maybe that companies logo or their name but generally buttons are for navigating within that website.
My calculator application demonstrations revealed many issues. User testing always helps and I found many things from the Dont Make Me Think book to be true especially the parts about user test often and its never too early to start and often you learn the most from the early ones. I believe people dont user test early on because they are scared of damage to their reputation and think they should get it as perfect as possible before testing. I found the opposite to be true. Yes you wont to fix errors you know of before testing but early tests could save lots of money and time by nipping you in the bud of a major mistake and developing a mistake that should have never existed.
My testing on paper showed that conventions are that most things that look significant should be clickable. When in reality people were trying to click the title of the app which was nothing more than that. I consider this a failure of the paper but also a design issue I incorporated for future designs. I made sure to make the title not look like a button. I made it flat with no dimension and placement to help. I found the convention for calculators is that there are no instructions and all should be similar. I had to rethink my buttons look. The shape was not a problem but the icons and placement. You can break conventions but have to be careful to keep that balance of order-chaos and not be to chaotic at once or they wont be able to figure out what is going on. I looked at more calculators and decided to adopt several conventions on icons. The biggest thing I wanted to break was the C and AC buttons. I wracked my brain trying to think what convention that could mean and only come up with C = clear and AC = all clear. What I do not like is it never tells you that any where for sure and also it does not allow for language barriers. I changed C to <- which is the same since it only clears the last symbol and is already a convention on other things. I changed AC to (trash can) icon similar to macs and other applications. There was no confusion it was a trash can and that it means delete/remove ect also I had it do the same thing as AC and delete all except it just deletes a row at a time. I used the down /\ triangle for drop down menus which is the convention. You click it and a menu drops down for more options. I use ? for information on buttons as it literally means question. I used the up /\ triangle to go to the main page because it is like going back up to the top and the drop down is to go down or deeper into that thing. I made the = button large and easy to find and turned it sideways but it was still understandable.
Overall conventions need to be taken into account. Doing a digital version was very enlightening and I’m sure will be even more so once I can get in onto a phone instead of an interactive keynote.