Implications of human cognition capabilities on user interface design

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An area of human-computer interaction where extensive research has been conducted is how human cognitive capabilities and limitations influence the way an interface should be designed. The following are some of the prominent issues extensively discussed in the literature.

Limited memory. Humans can remember at most seven unrelated items of information for short periods of time. Therefore, the GUI designer should not require the user to remember too many items of information at a time. It is the GUI designer's responsibility to anticipate what information the user will need at what point of each task and to ensure that the relevant information is displayed for the user to see. Showing the user some information at some point, and then asking him to recollect that information in a different screen where they no longer see the information places a memory burden on the user and should be avoided wherever possible.

Frequent task closure. Doing a task (except for very trivial tasks) requires doing several subtasks. When the system gives a clear feedback

to the user that a task has been successfully completed, the user gets a sense of achievement and relief. The user can clear out information regarding the completed task from memory. This is known as task closure. When the overall task is fairly big and complex, it should be divided into subtasks, each of which has a clear subgoal which can be a closure point.

Recognition rather than recall. Information recall incurs a larger memory burden on the users and is to be avoided as far as possible. On the other hand, recognition of information from the alternatives shown to him is more acceptable.

Procedural versus object-oriented. Procedural designs focus on tasks, prompting the user in each step of the task, giving them few options for anything else. This approach is the best applied in situations where the tasks are narrow and well-defined or where the users are inexperienced, such as an ATM. An object-oriented interface on the other hand focuses on objects. This allows the users a wide range of options.

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This article was published on 2010/12/10