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Chapter 3:
Understanding users
What goes on in the mind?
Core cognitive aspects
• Attention
• Perception and recognition
• Memory
• Reading, speaking and listening
• Problem-solving, planning, reasoning and decision-making,
• Selecting things to concentrate on at a point in time
from the mass of stimuli around us
• Involves audio and/or visual senses
• Information at the interface should be structured to
capture users’ attention, e.g. use perceptual boundaries
(windows), colour, reverse video, sound and flashing
Activity: Find the price of a double room at the
Holiday Inn in Bradley
Activity: Find the price for a double room at the
Quality Inn in Columbia
Design implications for
• Make information salient when it needs attending to
• Use techniques that make things stand out like colour,
ordering, spacing, underlining, sequencing and
• Avoid cluttering the interface - follow the
example of crisp, simple design
• Avoid using too much because the software allows it
Perception and recognition
• How information is acquired from the world and
transformed into experiences
• Obvious implication is to design representations that are
readily perceivable, e.g.
– Text should be legible
– Icons should be easy to distinguish and read
– Use of white space is good
Is color contrast good? Find
Are borders and white space
better? Find french
Which is easiest to read and
What is the time?
What is the time?
What is the time?
What is the time?
What is the time?
Design implications
• Icons and other graphical representations should enable
users to readily distinguish their meaning
• Bordering and spacing are effective visual ways of
grouping information
• Sounds should be audible and distinguishable
• Speech output should enable users to distinguish
between the set of spoken words
• Text should be legible and distinguishable from the
• Involves first encoding and then retrieving knowledge
• We don’t remember everything - involves filtering and
processing what is attended to
• Well known fact that we recognize things much better than
being able to recall things
– Better at remembering images than words
– Why interfaces are largely visual
Context is important
• Context affects the extent to which information can be
subsequently retrieved
Recognition versus recall
• People are better at recognition than recall.
The problem with the classic
• George Miller’s theory of how much information people
can remember
• People’s immediate memory capacity is very limited
What some designers get up to…
Present only 7 options on a menu
Display only 7 icons on a tool bar
Have no more than 7 bullets in a list
Place only 7 items on a pull down menu
Place only 7 tabs on the top of a website page
– But this is wrong? Why?
Personal information
• Personal information management (PIM) is a growing
problem for most users
Personal information
• Memory involves 2 processes
– recall-directed and recognition-based scanning
• File management systems should be designed to
optimize both kinds of memory processes
– e.g., Search box and history list
• Help users encode files in richer ways
– Provide them with ways of saving files using colour,
flagging, image, flexible text, time stamping, etc
Is Apple’s Spotlight search
tool any good?
Design implications
• Don’t overload users’ memories with complicated
procedures for carrying out tasks
• Design interfaces that promote recognition rather than
• Provide users with a variety of ways of encoding digital
information to help them remember where they have
stored them
– e.g., categories, color, flagging, time stamping
• Learning through doing
• Training wheels approach
Design Implications
• Must encourage exploration
• Constrain interfaces during learning