What impact has external cognition had on HCI?
One of the main uses of the external cognition approach in HCI has been
to enable researchers and designers to articulate designs and phenomena in
terms of a set of core properties and design dimensions which they did
not have access to before. In so doing, a language, couched in how people
manipulate representations, interact with objects, etc., at an interface, was
provided, helping researchers to select, articulate and validate particular forms
of external representation in terms of how they could support various activities
being designed for. Besides the originators of the theoretical frameworks,
they have been used by a number of others to inform the design of various
interfaces.Their emphasis on determining the optimal way of structuring and
presenting interactive content with respect to the cognitive effort involved can
be viewed as being generative Although largely superseded by contemporary
theories that address a broader range of user aspects, the extended cognition
approach still has much to offer in terms of helping designers select and create
interactive visualizations, feedback and multi-modal representations.
The distributed cognition approach considers cognitive phenomena in terms of individuals, artifacts,
and internal and external representations (Hutchins, 1995). It provides a more extensive account
compared with external cognition.Typic ally, it involves describing a “cognitive system,” which entails
interactions among people, the artifacts they use, and the environment they are working in. It was
initially developed by Hutchins and his colleagues in the late 1980s and proposed as a radically
new paradigm for rethinking all domains of cognition (Hutchins, 1995). It was argued that what
was problematic with the classical cognitive science approach was not its conceptual framework per
se, but its exclusive focus on modeling the cognitive processes that occurred within one individual.
Alternatively, Hutchins argued that what was needed was for the same conceptual framework to be
applied to a range of cognitive systems, including socio-technical systems at large (i.e., groups of
individual agents interacting with each other in a particular environment).
Part of the rationale for this extension was that, firstly, it was assumed to be easier and more
accurate to determine the processes and properties of an external system since they can arguably,
to a large extent, be observed directly in ways not possible inside a person’s head and, secondly, they
may actually be different and thus unable to be reduced to the cognitive properties of an individual.
To reveal the properties and processes of a cognitive system requires doing an ethnographic field
study of the setting and paying close attention to the activities of people and their interactions

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