Cognitive Artifacts

& Windows 95 Essay, Research Paper

Cognitive Artifacts & Windows 95

The article on Cognitive Artifacts by David A. Norman deals with the

theories and principles of artifacts as they relate to the user during execution

and completion of tasks. These principles and theories that Norman speaks about

may be applied to any graphical user interface, however I have chosen to relate

the article to the interface known as Windows 95. Within Windows 95, Microsoft

has included a little tool called the wizard that guides us through the steps

involved in setting up certain applications. This wizard is a very helpful tool

to the non experienced computer user, in the way that it acts like a to-do list.

The wizard takes a complex task and breaks it into discrete pieces by asking

questions and responding to those questions based on the answers. Using

Norman’s theories on system view and the personal view of artifacts, we see that

the system views the wizard as an enhancement. For example, we wanted to set up

the Internet explorer, you click on the icon answer the wizard’s questions and

the computer performs the work. Making sure everything is setup properly

without the errors that could occur in configuring the task yourself. The

wizard performs all the functions on its little to-do list without having the

user worrying about whether he/she remembered to include all the commands. On

the side of personal views the user may see the wizard as a new task to learn

but in general it is simpler than having to configure the application yourself

and making an error, that could cause disaster to your system. The wizard also

prevents the user from having to deal with all the internal representation of

the application like typing in command lines in the system editor.

Within Windows 95 most of the representation is internal therefore we

need a way to transform it to surface representation so it is accessible to the

user. According to Norman’s article there are “three essential ingredients in

representational systems. These being the world which is to be represented, the

set of symbols representing the world, and an interpreter.” This is done in

Windows by icons on the desktop and on the start menu. The world we are trying

to represent to the user is the application, which can be represented by a

symbol which is the icon. These icons on the desktop and on the start menu are

the surface representations the user sees when he goes to access the application

not all the files used to create it or used in conjunction with the applications

operation. With the icons a user can retrieve applications and their files by

a click of a button. The icons lead the user directly into the application

without showing all the commands the computer goes through to open the

application. The icons make the user more efficient in accomplishing tasks

because it cuts done on the time of trying to find an item when the user can

relate what he/she wants to do by the symbol on the icon. Another example of an

artifact within Windows 95 that exhibits Norman’s theories is the recycle bin.

This requires the user to have a direct engagement with the windows explorer and

knowing the right item to delete. As a user decides that he no longer desires a

certain program and chooses to delete the item, he is executing a command that

will change the perception of the system. By selecting the item to delete the

user has started an activity flow which involves the gulf of evaluation and the

gulf of execution. Either of these gulfs could be perceived differently by the

user then by the system so Windows 95 prompts the user with a dialog box asking

if the user is sure he/she wants to remove this item from the system and it

prompts again when emptying the recycle bin. What the user intends to do and

what the system plans to do might not be the same so by prompting the user for

action we are double checking that this is what the user has in mind. However

when windows prompts us with the confirmation message, we are breaking the

scheduled activity flow. The main problem with halting the activity flow is

that it breaks the user’s attention, however when deleting an item you could

have selected the wrong item by mistake and without the break in activity flow

the outcome could be dangerous. Norman calls these breaks “forcing functions

which prevent critical or dangerous actions from happening without conscious

attention.” The artifacts discussed above using Windows 95 graphical user

interface are very similar to the theories and principles that Norman suggests

in his article. Norman has stressed that cognitive artifact should follow three

aspects which I feel Windows has dealt with. Windows 95 in itself has been made

so that it is adaptable to the user whether he/she be an experienced user or not,

by creating artifacts like icons and menu bars that are all related to one

another. This makes it easier for the user to adapt to its environment and

continue computing happily.


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