As we are witnessing an increase in multifunctionality of interactive devices, two problems are taking shape in user interface (UI) design: first, the problem of complexity, and second, the problem of fragmentation (Kljajevic, in press). The former is reflected in the fact that multipurpose interactive devices usually have interfaces that do not allow easy access to new functions and features, rendering the increased functionality useless. The second problem is related to the fragmentation in the current research paradigms and testing trends that inform UI design. These paradigms and trends stem mostly from psychological theories that focus on only some specific aspects of user-interface interaction. While it is important to investigate such topics in detail, it is even more important to look at the totality of the interaction and determine the principles that operate in it. An integrative approach to UI design has the potential to solve both problems. Such an approach has two components: a top-down and a bottomup component. Its top-down component deals with a small set of basic cognitive principles that operate in interactive reality and therefore need to be recognized at the level of UI design. The principles are built into a cognitive architecture—a wide theoretical framework that corresponds to the human cognitive system—whose constraints prevent proliferation of implausible theories, which solves the fragmentation problem.
The Interactive Reality
I will use the term interactive reality to refer to the context of interactive behavior emerging from a user-task-artifact triad. A specific case of interactive behavior depends on (1) the elements of the triad, (2) complexity of the structural relations among the elements, and (3) the environment in which a task takes place. Thus, the term interactive reality implies that no matter how complex the dynamic interplay of user’s cognition, perception, and motor actions is, it is the totality of the relations that emerge from the triad in each particular case and the triad’s interaction with the environment that determines the quality of the user’s experience.
Given the complexity of interactive reality and that of the human cognitive system, it is confusing that UI design often assumes that the rationality principle is the only relevant principle that affects this reality. Indeed, cognitive scientists have long realized that “rationality does not determine behavior” (Simon, 1947, p. 241) and that the rational decision theory put forth by neoclassical economics is too idealized to be applied to everyday human life (Boden, 2006; Gardner, 1985).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Cognition: A complex system enabled by the functioning of the brain. It comprises processes and states that include for example vision, language comprehension and use, memory subsystems, executive functions (planning, problem solving, self-monitoring), and so forth.
Usability: The term is usually taken to mean that a product is easy to use or “user friendly.” In a more technical sense, the term refers to one of six software characteristics that a product has to have in order to achieve the quality set by the ISO standards.
Interactive Behavior: Any behavior that emerges from mutual influence of the interacting elements. For example, interactive behavior within the user-interface-artifact triad depends on all three elements and the relations among them.
Quality in Use: Users’ impression of the quality of a software product.
Cognitive Architecture: An underlying infrastructure of a cognitive agent that remains constant over time and across tasks. Cognitive architectures attempt to model the mind. Examples of cognitive architectures are SOAR, EPIC, ACT-R, and so forth.
Cognitive Principles: The principles that guide and restrict cognitive operations. They operate within and across different cognitive modules (vision, language, etc.). The most basic among these principles is the principle of economy, which requires that maximal benefits be obtained by the least cognitive efforts.
User Interface: A medium of interaction between a user and a device. Users tend to identify an interface with the whole product because of the impression that they directly manipulate the objects on the screen.