Trees and Nests: A Comparison between Two Hierarchical Metaphors in Educational Applications


The aim is to determine whether one of two hierarchical metaphors, the tree (parent-child) or the nested (object-container), is more suitable for designing educational interfaces for children. To cope with this issue an experimental educational application was designed with a prototype for each hierarchical metaphor. The application was evaluated in a laboratory experiment, where children participants interacted with the prototypes to find answers for questions that require searching for information. Task performance was measured in terms of effectiveness, efficiency and subjective aspects such as user perception of ease of use and user preference. The nested (object-container) metaphor was found to be preferred by users and superior in several objective parameters of performance efficiency, but no significant differences were found in the perceived ease of use and in the performance effectiveness. Implications for designing educational applications are discussed.

Share and Cite:

Katz, A. (2012). Trees and Nests: A Comparison between Two Hierarchical Metaphors in Educational Applications. Creative Education, 3, 126-133. doi: 10.4236/ce.2012.31021.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman.
[2] Baek, J. S., & Lee, K. P. (2003). A study of cognitive characteristics of children’s information architecture using participatory design technique. Research Papers of Ergonomics for Children and Educational Environment, IEA Technical Committee.
[3] Bevan, N. (2009). What is the difference between the purpose of usability and user experience evaluation methods? UXEM'09 Workshop, INTERACT 2009, Uppsala.
[4] Collins A. M., & Quillian M. R., (1969). Retrieval time from semantic memory. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 8, 240- 248. doi:10.1016/S0022-5371(69)80069-1
[5] De Angeli, A., Lynch, P., & Johnson, G. I. (2002) Pleasure versus efficiency in user interfaces: Towards an involvement framework. In W. S. Green, & P. W. Jordan (Eds.), Pleasure with products: Beyond usability (pp. 97-111). London: Taylor & Francis. doi:10.1201/9780203302279.ch7
[6] De Angeli, A., Sutcliffe A., & Hartmann, J. (2006). Interaction, usability and aesthetics: What influences users’ preferences? Proceedings of the 6th Conference on Designing Interactive systems (DIS '06), New York, 271-280.
[7] Dillon, A. (2001). Beyond usability: Process, outcome and affect in human-computer interactions. Canadian Journal of Library and Information Science, 26, 57-69. doi:10.1086/428691
[8] Druin, A. (2005). What children can teach us: Developing digital libraries for children. Library Quarterly, 75, 20-41.
[9] Ellis, K., Blashki. K. (2001). Producing an artifact as research: Multimedia for young children, 2001. Proceedings of the National Advisory Committee on Computing Qualifications, Napier, 259-264.
[10] Gilutz, S., & Black, J. B. (2010) Child and design factors interacting in children’s HCI helping children focus on the content, not the interface. Designing for Children, 2-6 February 2010, Mumbai.
[11] Gilutz, S., Nielsen, J., (2007). Usability of websites for children. USA: Nielsen Norman Group. URL (last checked 3 October 2011).
[12] Hassenzahl, M. (2003). The thing and I: Understanding the relationship between user and product. In M. Blythe, C. Overbeeke, A. Monk, & P. C. Wright (Eds.), Funology: From usability to enjoyment (pp. 31- 42). Dordrecht: Kluwer.
[13] Hutchinson, B. H., Bederson, B. B., & Druin, A. (2006). The evolution of the international children’s digital library searching and browsing interface. Proceedings of the 2006 Conference on Interaction Design and Children (IDC '06), (pp. 105-112). New York, NY: ACM.
[14] Katz, A., & Vaserman, D. (2009), A case study of two hierarchical recursive metaphors for information organization: The closet metaphor vs. the tree metaphor. Computer Modelling and New Technologies, 13, 7-17.
[15] Markman, E. M. (1989). Categorization and naming in children: Problems of induction. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
[16] Mazzone, E., Read, C. J., Beale, R., Abuelmaatti, O., & England, D. (2008). Understanding children’s contributions during informant design. Proceedings of the 22nd British HCI Group Annual Conference (HCI 2008), Liverpool, 1-5 September 2008, 61-64.
[17] Nielsen, J., (1993). Usability engineering. Boston: Academic Press.
[18] Nielsen, J., (1994). Ten usability heuristics. URL (last checked 3 October 2011).
[19] Norman, D. (2004). Emotional design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things. New York: Basic Books.
[20] Park, E. Y, & Park, Y. H. (2010). A hierarchical interface design of a puzzle game for elementary education. International Journal of u-and e-Service, Science and Technology, 3, 43-50.
[21] Schiemenz, B. (2002). Managing complexity by recursion. In R. Trappl (Ed.), Cybernetics and Systems (pp. 475-479). Wien: Austrian Society for Cybernetic Studies.
[22] Shneiderman, B. (1987). Designing the user interface: Strategies for effective human-computer interaction. Boston: Addison-Wesley, Inc.
[23] Sorden S. (2005). A cognitive approach to instructional design for multimedia learning. Informing Science Journal, 8, 263-279.
[24] Te’eni, D., Carey, J., & Zhang, P., (2007). Human computer interaction: Developing effective organizational information systems. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
[25] Tractinsky, N., Shoval-Katz, A., & Ikar, D. (2000). What is beautiful is usable. Interacting with Computers, 13, 127-145. doi:10.1016/S0953-5438(00)00031-X
[26] Villegas, P., Concejero, P., Pérez, S., Prieto, J., Aragón, L., & Diego, S. (2006). Human factors issues in 3D visualization module for multimedia collections in AceMedia. The 20th International Symposium on Human Factors in Telecommunication, Sophia-Antipolis, 20-23 March 2006.
[27] Yahaya, W. A. J., & Salam, S. N. A. (2009). Usability design strategies for children: Developing children learning and knowledge in decreasing children dental anxiety. Proceedings of the International Conference on Primary Education, Hong Kong, 25-27 November 2009.

Copyright © 2023 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.