04.Users and Cognition: How people understand systems

Read this to prepare for class discussion

Cognitive Psychology and Design

  1. Universal principles of design
    Horror Vacui, 128
  2. from Sharp, Rogers, & Preece,
    Chapter 3, Understanding users
    • Section 3.2, What is cognition?, 66-85
    • Section 3.3.3, Information processing, 89-91
    • Section 3.3.4, Distributed cognition, 91-92
    • Section 3.3.5, External cognition, 92-96
  3. Jason Withrow's Cognitive Psychology & IA: From Theory to Practice
    on the contribution cognitive psychology, especially visual perception, can make to interaction design (particularly interface design).


Optional readings which may come up in class discussions

Payne, S. J. (2003).
Users' mental models: the very ideas.
In Carroll, J. M. (ed.), HCI Models, Theories, and Frameworks: Toward a Multidisciplinary Science, Amsterdam: Morgan Kaufmann, 135-156. [QA76.9.H85 C367 2003]

Lester, P.M. (2006).
Visual Communication: Images with Messages, Thomson Wadsworth. [P93.5 .L47 2006]
Chapter 3, The eye, the retina, and the brain
Chapter 4, What the brain sees: Color, form, depth, and movement
Chapter 5, The sensual and perceptual theories of visual communication


Additional resources


A paper by Patrick J. Lynch, entitled, Visual design for the user interface provides a history of graphical design and some psychological theories that have shaped it. Published originally in 1994, Journal of Biocommunications, 21(1):22-30


George Miller, The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information. Originally published in The Psychological Review, 1956, vol. 63, pp. 81-97.


An extensive critique of the role of cognitive theory in HCI is Rogers, Y. (2004) New Theoretical approaches for Human-Computer Interaction. Annual Review of Information, Science and Technology, 38, 87-143.

GOMS (Goals, Operators, Methods, and Selection rules)

To find out more about GOMS and the MHP visit the Usability First page.

Also look at David Kieras and Bonnie John.


A good introduction by Ruth Byrne (a cognitive psychologist).

an on-going discussion about mental models

An article by Scott McDaniel What's your idea of a mental model? with a follow on by Indi Young What Is Your Mental Model?

A podcast of a talk by Stephen Payne given in 2006 on mental models


Look at A Brief introduction to distributed cognition by Yvonne Rogers (2005).


For more on cognitive disabilities, Heather Mariger writes about the problems and challenges facing millions of web users who suffer from various cognitive impairments, such as Alzheimers, and provides a set of design recommendations for web design.

A bit more insight into the world of cognitive disabilities can be obtained by looking at the Reports from a Resident Alien blog.