When the Cat Goes Quiet... It's Time to Listen

Someone at Truth and Beauty Bombs had the ingenious idea of scrubbing out Garfield’s thought-bubbles:

Garfield + your thoughts

The result is much funnier than the original. That is to say, the original wasn’t funny, but the new, "lesser" versions mostly are. The results can be surreal, but what’s surprising is that the stories still work perfectly well without Garfield’s thoughts continually spelling out the joke for us.

Put simply, the equation is this:

  say less == engage the brain

If you force the user to fill in the blanks, then you get the brain in on the act: to participate, to tell part of the story. Suddenly the experience is interactive. In the case of Garfield, the cartoon suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, becomes funny. In the case of teaching documents (a.k.a. textbooks, tutorials, on-line help), forcing the user’s brain to do a little work makes the user learn faster – and I’ll bet the user retains the knowledge for longer, too.

In other areas this can have the wrong effect. Sure, you could make a program’s UI surreal and obtuse – let’s say by removing all the labels and tooltips from the icons – but all you end up with is difficult-to-use software.

But there is a way in which more software could use this approach well. Tune in for tomorrow's installment...

About the Author

Matt Stephens is a senior architect, programmer and project leader based in Central London. He co-wrote Agile Development with ICONIX Process, Extreme Programming Refactored, and Use Case Driven Object Modeling with UML - Theory and Practice.