Coherence Principle

It’s quite interesting, this will be my first blogpost with a connection to my study. A few days ago I was sitting in the seminar called Multimedia Learning where we discuss the same called book of Richard E. Mayer and during that session I thought that the topic fits perfectly into better taste than sorry. Multimedia Learning is a book about the advantages of learning with multiple media and what aspects are relevant if you work with multimedia instruction.

In one chapter (no. 4) Mayer talks about the Coherence Principle. It is basically about material which is used within multimedia and he explains which material is coherent and which is not. By material Mayer talks about any kind of media: information, sound, pictures, etc. Mayer says that you should abandon every material which is unnecessary. Coined in the phrase “less is more”.

So, why I am writing about it right here? Because many designer are talking about Dieter Rams and his 10 design principles. But only vicariously we are confronted in the web with the kind of stuff Dieter Rams produced (products like radios or tvs). But in the web we are confronted with interfaces and media all the time. And I want to use Mayer’s Coherence Principle to describe why I used the wordpress theme of Information Architects and designed my weblog the way it is now. Basically the topic Coherent Principle has a lot in common with information architecture as you will see.

“Extraneous material competes for cognitive resources in working memory and can divert attention from the important material, disrupt the process of organizing the material, and prime the learner to integrate the material with an inappropriate theme.”

That is what Mayer says in the chapter’s introduction. In dependence on web design, it says that if you have different information on your site, it will compete against each other, and the user will spend to much time organizing the information in order to chose what is coherent and what is important. Let’s say you have a weblog with a head navigation, one column for your blog posts, two side bar columns and a footer. And all the information, like blogposts, pictures, tweets, current comments, blogroll, categories, and and…, are presented on one page. People are used to it but it doesn’t mean that it is good.
Most of the bloggers want the users to read their blog posts, get into the information and, in best case, want the user to give feedback. Besides this he wants the user to offer other information like what kind of blog he reads (blogroll) or what is currently a well discussed topic (most active blogpost). But the user’s attention is limited and you should really decide on what is important. You should keep the attention of the user on one thing at a time or at least as little different kind of information at the same time.
I can imagine you know what I am talking about, how often does it happen that you leave a website although you’ve just read a few sentences and get distracted by things which are written all over the website (or pictures and animations)?

All that is abandoned by the wordpress theme of iA. On the front page you only see the navigation (header and footer) and the blogposts with a picture and an excerpt of the post, so everything with as little input as possible but as many as needed. On the single page of the blogpost as well, you only have the navigation and the blogpost itself. BUT on the pages About, Network and More Of Me, etc. you can find more. Everything is separated, so you can concentrate on one thing. If you want to get an impression what I am writing on twitter you can see it on my More of Me page. There I have three streams on one page and I think it’s okay, it shall give you an introduction and if you want to read more, click on the link. All this combined with a clean and reduced layout should make Richard E. Mayer (and Dieiter Rams) happy.

I don’t say that every weblog should look like this, it would be pretty boring. It could also look like the weblog of UARRR. His layout is also very reduced and clean but at the same time playful and creative. That is also the reason why I like most tumblr and posterous.

When you take a look at your weblog you should think about what you can expect from your user and if you can answer their wishes.

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  • Philipp

    i totally got you!! Soon i will launch my second project after HUNDERTMARK and this was the very first time i designed a theme comlpetely myself. Why? because i had an idea of pure simplicity.
    Most parts of the web are just ugly and mostly not readable. In my opinion this is the very last advance that printed media has compared to most websites.
    Printed media is all in all way more more beautiful than most of the weblogs.
    I liked your other theme as well, but the new one is way better.
    Go on with your simplicity! You will succeed with it!

  • Markus Reuter

    Thanks Philipp, can’t wait to see your new project. In which direction will it go? Oh wait, I remember something. Cool, anyways wish you good luck and success!

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Coherence Principle