Replace the traditional file system—which demands continual decoding of abstract symbols and hierarchies—with spatial organization of files in the world that leverages the brain’s spatial memory, naturally tracking the contents of our personal space.
UI design suggestions
1. Use Space as an Organizational Tool
For example, if the user places a holographic object in a specific region within a physical desk, their spatial memory of its placement makes it easy and fast to retrieve later. This kind of natural organization should be favored over abstract, nested file system structures, which deviate strongly from the real world. If the application does need nesting, do not exceed one level.
2. Use volumetric containers and holographic furniture
For storage, use volumetric containers instead of abstract “folders” and file systems that confuse the relationship between data and space. Such containers—”holographic furniture”— can be as creative or exotic as you like, as long they aren’t nested more than one level deep (see the next point) and files are ergonomically easy to retrieve from within them. As with any holographic tool, (see Minimize Abstraction) design such containers with physical characteristics (affordances) that suggest their function (such as a knob to open a drawer).
3. Don’t overload the user’s working memory with nesting
Use no more than one level of hierarchy within 3D containers (see example below). Despite being commonplace in traditional UI’s, a holographic drawer should not also feature hidden “sub-drawers” within it. This form of nesting overloads the user’s working spatial memory to leverage their own spatial memory to organize content intuitively.
4. Preserve the user’s spatial memory
When allowing the user to select objects, do not cause unselected objects to vanish, even temporarily—this breaks the integrity of the user’s spatial memory as well. Instead, use positive highlights on the area in question, rather than subtracting from the area outside the selected area.
5. Miniaturize content and tools to optimize space
Although this deviates somewhat from the user’s expectations in the physical world—their natural priors—miniaturization is a practical way of maximizing the user’s workspace without radically disorienting their sense of organization. By smoothly transitioning from big to small (or vice versa), the user maintains an intuitive sense of their content.
…Before you object! How to manage 5,000
family photos with a single level of nesting
Even large sets of content can be managed without violating the intuitive principles of spatial organization that Meta advocates. For example, family photos are routinely kept by the thousands in labeled albums, which can themselves be organized on shelves. This does not represent a violation since the photo albums are already exposed and once opened the user immediately arrives at the content, hence one level of hierarchy deep. This use of furniture, simple grouping and shallow nesting provides AR developers with an effective model for organizing huge amounts of holographic content without the cognitive overhead of abstract file systems. Additionally, miniaturization (as described in UI suggestion #4) can be a powerful method for conserving space without disrupting the user’s spatial memory.
The neuroscience behind it
Treating files as symbolic icons requires extra steps to convert to
meaning, making it harder to make quick inferences about their content. Neuroscience suggests our spatial memory naturally tracks the contents
of our environment,—so Meta advises harnessing this ability instead of traditional file systems to organize commonly used tools and content.
Spatial memory refers to the brain’s natural ability to track the objects near us, providing an efficient way to sense and track our surroundings. By contrast, traditional file systems describe organization through abstract symbols and nested structures, requiring far greater mental resources to decode and understand. By arranging tools and contents within the user’s personal space, organization becomes an intrinsic byproduct of spatial memory, bypassing the need for abstract decoding and resulting in faster, more reflexive connection with the user.