A user-interactive method for use in a processor-controlled machine provides a user with the capability to establish associations among image segments in a data structure that indicate visually-displayed but otherwise not recognized or interpreted information, for the purpose of retrieving the unrecognized data from the data structure without performing a recognition operation. A user selects and designates a visually recognizable, but computationally unrecognized, displayed image segment as a coherent display object, called a key object, to function as an indexing mechanism. The user then associates the key object with data objects, which may also be computationally unrecognized, that are stored in a target data structure. The key object can be used as an access mechanism to retrieve the target data without recognition of either the key object or the target data. For this reason the method is particularly useful in systems that provide for a stylus- or pen-based computing interface, since it provides a flexible and powerful information indexing capability while avoiding the need to perform generally error prone recognition operations on handwritten or other graphical symbols. A key object is assigned a unique identifier that is computationally distinguishable from other key object identifiers, and a key object-to-data association is established between the unique identifier and the target display object. A well-designed graphical user interface permits key objects to be easily created, associated with displayed information, and reused.