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Information Design for the Small-screen Interface: An Overview of Web Design Issues for Personal Digital Assistants

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At the same time that increasing amounts of information are being disseminated using Web interfaces, personal digital assistants (PDAs) or handheld computing devices have proliferated. However, as the ways that we need to use information grow, and as the range of information available online continues to diversify, our basic Web design assumptions should be examined to determine how the small, low-resolution screen, predominantly text-based design, and relatively cumbersome interfaces affect information search and retrieval.

Reliance on these assumptions may be particularly critical when they are applied to PDA use intended to support task-specific browsing, as opposed to more typical Web browsing in which users engage in open-ended, exploratory behavior. The user's ability to access information—including locating and relocating information, comprehending the material, building mental models, and remembering found information—may differ from user performance with desktop interfaces in substantive ways.

In the near future, we expect these issues to have a major impact on information design as more and more information is accessed through PDAs. This article charts a theoretical framework for understanding differences between handheld and full-sized Web environments, and identifies design issues for further research.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2002

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  • Technical Communication, the Society's journal, publishes articles about the practical application of technical communication theory and serves as a common arena for discussion by practitioners. Technical Communication includes both quantitative and qualitative research while showcasing the work of some of the field's most noteworthy writers. Among its most popular features are the helpful book reviews. Technical Communication is published quarterly and is free with membership.
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