Developing a systematic approach using cognitive psychology.

Why designers can“t understand their users, developing a systematic approach using cognitive psychology, usability


Review: Maas-Maarten ZeemanRead a really nice usability book. It uses cognitive psychology as an elementary approach to design user-friendly apps.
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Review: Peter Simlinger

Information Design Journal, Vol. 17, no 2, pag. 159-160

Logo: IIID
International Institute for Information Design (IIID), Wien/Vienna, Austria
Despite the fact that Leonard Verhoef confuses design with technology and vice versa, his book opens a window on what cognitive psychology could mean to information designers. The provocative title of the book remains unclear until the last paragraph on page 170: One can blame management as Cooper does (1999). So far this smoke screen of science has been effective in not blaming psychology for the interface problem. When time has blown away this smoke screen, Im afraid our grandchildren may well blame todays psychology for designers not understanding their users.To demonstrate the alternative indicated in the subtitle of the book Developing a systematic approach using cognitive psychology Leonard Verhoef shows how to find fundamental (psychological) concepts for interface design and then how to arrange these concepts in a way that allows both an elementary and a holistic approach. On page 157 he says: The fundamental concepts should be generalizable i.e. time, domain and interface technology independent. At the same time, the fundamental concepts should allow reliable prediction on human performance of any time, any interface technology and any domain … including applied cognitive psychology itself This sounds pretty sympathetic to me.
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 Referring to research done in the field, Leonard Verhoef blames his discipline for not having provided basic and generalizable knowledge ergonomists can use in the practice of everyday design (p. 8). Turning the tables on his discipline and supporting this with concepts based on his own research, Leonard Verhoef presents himself as a designer with a psychological background, rather then as a psychologist. Considering that all his research on the interface(s) of ticket machines and timetables is easily transferable to interfaces of all sorts of other machines, e.g. such for making coffee, his insights lead up to concrete design solutions, Leonard Verhoef should be whole-heartedly welcomed as a member of the design community.What has Leonard Verhoef offered to designers and those in his ancestroral trade? He clearly distinguishes between an elementary and a holistic approach which, according to his deliberations, need to be brought together in a synthetic approach. In Part II The Solution (a synthesis of psychological and design concepts) Verhoef argues that the Man and system components need to complement a Task component which is to include goal or the aim of human activities. This very much reminds me of the persona that Alan Cooper proposes, that can be used to replace target groups with exemplary users.
 As Verhoef says (page 49 of his book), when evaluating components (human, system, task), a property approach to interface design (in which technology is adapted to humans and not vice versa) is preferable. Doing it the other way round would mean swapping master and slave.Subsequently, Verhoef introduces the properties of visual size, visual distance, cognitive number (quantity) and cognitive structure. The explanation of visual  distance and the need to keep is as short as possible impressed me most. It requires presenting information at point zero for the user as distinct from a fixed position, e.g. in a menu at the top of the screen.
 Verhoef also gives examples of other functions in which distance plays an important role. He refers to near and far away buttons, which require finger movements and wrist or arm movements, information within and beyond a fixation area, short and long term memory and the fact that greater conceptual distance requires more effort to strive after meaning. Interesting parallels to Hermann Knoflacher's theory that the degree of physical effort involved in traveling a given distance determines the choice of transport modes (see the article Infoconnectivity – The value of certainty and uncertainty for interconnected transport networks).To keep this review short, I should not engage in elaborating other properties nor refer to the many experiments which underpins Verhoef's concepts of a systematic approach using cognitive psychology to attain design solutions.

Those of the readers with an interest in theory and method, as well as those with an immediate concern in interfaces of vending machines, timetables and train departure indicators are strongly advised to engage in a critical appraisal of Leonard Verhoefs book.
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