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CHAPTER 4
Classical Theories
In the ear ly 1980s, there was much optimism as to how the field of cognitive psycholog y could
significantly contribute to the development of the field of HCI. A driving force was the realization
that most computer systems being developed at the time were difficult to learn, difficult to use and did
not enable the users to carry out the tasks in the way they wanted. The body of knowledge, research
findings and methods that made up cognitive psychology were seen as providing the means by which
to reverse this trend, by being able to inform the design of easy to learn and use computer systems.
Much research was carried out to achieve this goal: mainstream information processing theories
and models were used as a basis from which to develop design principles, methods, analytic tools
and prescriptive advice for the design of computer interfaces (e.g., Carroll, 1991). These are loosely
classified into three main approaches: body of knowledge, applying basic research and cognitive
modeling (Rogers, 2004). Under the heading cognitive modeling, well-known early conceptual
modeling approaches are outlined, including the interface gulfs, GOMS and mental models.
4.1 BODY OF KNOWLEDGE
The most widely known contribution that the field of cognitive psychology made to HCI is the
provision of explanations of the capabilities and limitations of users, in terms of what they can and
cannot do when performing computer-based tasks. For example, theories that were developed to
address key areas, like memory, attention, perception, learning, mental models and decision-making,
have been much popular ized in tutorials, introductory chapters, articles in magazines and the web
to show their relevance to HCI. Popularized examples of this approach included Norman (1988),
Preece et al. (1994) and Monk (1984). By explicating user performance in terms of well-known
cognitive characteristics that are easy to assimilate (e.g., recognition is better than recall), designers
were alerted to their possible effects when making design decisions something that they might
not have otherwise considered.
A well-known example is the application of the finding that people find it easier to recognize
things shown to them than to have to recall them from memory. Most graphical interfaces have
been designed to provide visual ways of presenting information, that enable the user to scan and
recognize an item like a command, rather than require them to recall what command to issue next
at the interface.
This approach, however, has tended to be piecemeal depending on the availability of re-
search findings in cognitive psychology that can be translated into a digestible form. A further
problem with this approach is its propensity towards a “jewel in the mud culture, whereby a sin-

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