Measuring Visual Clutter

August 22nd, 2007

Visual clutter is a huge problem in GUI design, in which the architect needs to balance the desire to have all information immediately available to the the user, with the need to enable the user to make sense of that information. The aesthetic of minimalism often falls victim as the designer acquiesces to the many competing demands of a project, resulting what I call the “Las Vegas School of Design” – a myriad of colours, shapes and sounds, rendering the user completely insensate.

Ruth Rosenholtz proposes several measures of Visual Clutter, the most practical of which is to compress the image in question using JPEG2000 – the smaller the resulting file, the less clutter.

JPEG2000 compression never really took off, but you can get JPEG2000 compression using the OpenJPEG or JasPer libraries. GraphicsMagick provides commandline access to the JasPer library.

A colleague of mine once proposed disinvesting in companies based on the clutter found on their home page – an unfocused company would tend to have a homepage beholden to too many competing interests within the company, resulting in a homepage populated with too many grabs for the users attention. Would be an interesting excersise to track measures of homepage visual clutter versus stock price.

2 Responses to “Measuring Visual Clutter”

  1. Ron Murray Says:

    Regarding your statement about JPEG 2000 compression, the Cultural Heritage community (archives, libraries, and museums) is taking up JPEG 2000 in a big way.

    Have a look at the Library of Congress format sustainability pages on the topic:

    What most people mean when they say not taken off is that there is no native support in browsers – just as there is no support for the TIFF format. That particular issue gets tangled up in OS software makers’ manuverings.

  2. Damien Morton Says:

    Not just browsers, but also most of the content creation systems people use, such as Photoshop etc, don’t come with JPEG2000 as standard codecs.

    For something to take off in a big way, for me, would be for consumer-level software and hardware to support it.

    Alas, that isn’t the case for JPEG2000, due to what I guess are IP issues.

    Thats not to say that JPEG2000 doesn’t have its merits.