On Mapping, Analogies, and Metaphors

When learning to use artifacts in our environment, and the same goes for interactive products, Norman (1999) talked about the principle of natural mapping. The principle refers to our ability to understand and know what to do or how to use something by mapping a correspondence between controls (e.g., buttons) and the elements we are trying to control or manipulate (e.g., an on-screen element).

Mapping is inherent in our ability to understand and solve problems by the use of analogies. Specifically, we can solve a problem by solving another problem that is analogous to the source problem. To do that, we first notice a correspondence the analogy between the two problems and then map the corresponding parts between the two problems. Based on the mapped correspondence, we can apply the solution from the analogous problem to the original problem (Catrambone & Holyoak, 1989; Gick & Holyoak, 1980, 1983; Holyoak & Thagard, 1995).

The use of metaphors is very similar to analogous reasoning. A metaphor helps us understand one concept or idea in terms of another (e.g., Lakkof & Johnson, 1980). In other words, we can map the correspondence between the metaphor and what we know or can understand.