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October 10th, 1999

Cognitive Factors in Design: Basic Phenomena in Human Memory and Problem Solving

Thomas T. Hewett
Drexel University


You will learn some theoretical underpinnings and practical aspects of how people remember and how they solve problems. You will also gain ideas about how to use that knowledge during product design and how to take advantage of some of the capabilities of your most important interface component: the human mind.


This "CHI Classic" was a top-rated tutorial at CHI 95, CHI 96, CHI 97 and CHI 98.



Interaction designers and developers who have found there are users who have trouble using their products without training or who have found that users have minds of their own. Anyone interested in human-computer interaction and interactive system design who has not done course work in cognitive psychology. Not intended for the human factors specialist, for the individual with extensive training in psychology or for the person seeking a state-of-the-art literature of the latest research in cognitive psychology.


Interactive presentation and "minds-on" demonstrations.


Tom Hewett is Professor of Psychology and Professor of Computer Science at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, USA, where his teaching includes courses on Cognitive Psychology, Problem Solving and Creativity, Psychology of Human Computer Interaction, and the Psychology of Interaction Design. He has held an appointment as a Guest Professor at the University of Vienna and has been a visiting lecturer/scientist at the University of Tampere in Finland and Twente University in the Netherlands.

Professor Hewett is a published software author and has worked on the design and development of several projects, including a semi-intelligent, on-line assistance program for users of bibliographic database search services, and an interactive hypertext guidebook to the Macintosh and microcomputing facilities at Drexel University. Some of his research papers have focused on issues related to the evaluation of interactive computing systems and the impact of evaluation on design. Other papers have described the structure and implications of a taxonomy for thinking about instructional computing and have explored some of the pedagogical and institutional implications of universal student access to personal computers.

Professor Hewett chaired the ACM SIGCHI Curriculum Development Group which developed recommendations for undergraduate curricula and courses for HCI and has been an invited participant in workshops on computer graphics and visualization education. He served for four years as Vice-Chair for Operations of SIGCHI and was one of the general co-chairs for the CHI '94 conference held in Boston, MA, USA. His current research activities include working with a group of computer scientists who are developing a scientific problem solving environment which integrates symbolic and numeric computing. He is also part of a team of six researchers developing a project in networked engineering design and has a visiting fellowship to facilitate collaboration with colleagues in the United Kingdom who study creativity and cognition.

Supplementary Descriptive Material

Content, Presentation Style, and Duration.

This full day tutorial relies upon demonstrations, "minds-on" exercises and mini-lectures to introduce participants to a number of basic processes and phenomena of human memory, and human problem solving. Extended examples and thought questions in the notes provide illustrations of how the knowledge gained can be applied to human-computer interaction design.

Key Learning Objectives of the Course

The tutorial has five basic objectives:

The first objective for the tutorial is to provide attendees with an intuitive understanding of a variety of phenomena through direct, "hands-on" (actually, "minds-on") exposure. Demonstrations and examples focus a participant's attention upon significant aspects of memory and problem solving processes which he or she may not otherwise ordinarily notice.

The second objective is to help attendees develop a basis for making educated design choices when interpreting guidelines and when guidelines fail, conflict, or are non-existent. The demonstrations, examples, and mini-lectures create a general understanding of memory and problem solving.

The third objective is to relate some of the phenomena being demonstrated to human-computer interaction. Occasional mini-lectures, examples and thought questions in the notes will be used to bridge the gap between the demonstrations and general characteristics of human-computer interaction.

The fourth objective is to assist attendees in undertaking self-directed study on these or related topics of their own choosing in cognitive psychology. The demonstrations and examples are chosen to supplement present or future textbook knowledge with insights based upon direct experience. Suggestions for further reading are provided.

The fifth objective is to provide those who may be asked to teach some of the psychological aspects of human-computer interaction with a useful set of teaching materials. All of the demonstrations have been classroom tested, work well, and can be done with minimal equipment.

In summary, then, one aspect of the overall goal for this tutorial is to help develop an approximate, intuitive feel for human memory and problem solving processes which will serve as a context for use in interpreting guidelines, in making design choices in the absence of guidelines, and in communicating with others on the development team. Another aspect of this goal is to develop that understanding in a context which illustrates some applications to HCI design and which facilitates further learning or teaching.


October 10-13, 1999
Loughborough UK



An ACM SIGCHI International Conference