Archetypes and Their Use in Mobile UX

May 17 2010

Hello my fellow IxDoers!

I’ve recently been blogging a bit on Johnny Holland and just wrote an article which I thought would be interesting to hear your thoughts on.
I’d been collecting data and thoughts on this for some time now and its time to hear whether it makes sense.


Have you ever needed a user manual to sit on a good chair? Probably not. When we see a good chair, we almost always know exactly what to do, how to use it and what not to do with it. And yet, chairs are made by the thousands, and several challenge these base assumptions to become classics in their own right. The chair is one of the most universally recognized archetypes known to us. In light of recent events in the mobile realm, I believe that the stage is set to probe notions of archetypes in the mobile space.


Archetype: An archetype (pronounced /ˈɑrkɪtaɪp/) is an original model of a person, ideal example, or a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated; a symbol universally recognized by all. (wikipedia)

[Note: There is a deep philosophical definition of archetype as proposed by Carl Jung. This article is not based on that form of definition.]

The word archetype has its roots in architectural theory. It also deals with cognition at its most basic level. In a very generic way—points, lines and planes are archetypes in graphic design. Columns, walls, floors, roofs are archetypes in architecture.

When we see a flight of stairs, our cultural memory and experiences kick in. They teach us that stairs signify climbing, doors represents portals between zones and chairs are (usually) something you sit on. We seldom think much about them. Experience makes us learn, encode and remember these archetypes, making us react spontaneously to them. The degree to which archetypes are understood varies greatly between cultures. Interestingly, archetypes can always be deconstructed, challenged or probed since they merely act as starting points of reference. There are innumerable examples of archetypes that have been reintroduced to us in the most puzzling ways in order to question our own understanding of them; for example Escher’s illustration below, which turns the stair archetype on its head.

… archetypes can always be deconstructed, challenged or probed since they merely act as starting points of reference.

Read the rest here if you dare. :)

May 21 2010
moydi permalink

Nice article!!!

Leave A New Comment

Captcha Challenge * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.