Rogers, Y. HCI Theory: Classical, Modern and Contemporary. Part II

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The fourth chapter (Classical Theories) covers the traditional and “old” theories in HCI, i.e. theories derived from cognitive psychology. The chapter focuses on three approaches: body of knowledge, applying of basic research, and cognitive modeling.

Body of knowledge means the somewhat direct contributions of cognitive psychology to HCI, i.e. theories and models of memory, percepetion, mental models etc. Although the contribution of this approach is clear, it has been criticized especially of being only bits and pieces and not covering all aspects of HCI.

Applying basic research is a more systematic approach of selecting relevant theories from cognitive psychology and applying them to certain interface design problems. Main problem with this approach has been the dramatic difference between basic research context of cognitive psychology (mainly laboratory setups with a focus on certain limited phenomena) and messy real world settings of HCI. As a result the predictions about best UIs (easiest to learn etc.) based on theories of cognitive psychology were not very successful.

Cognitive modeling was at least for me the most familiar approach of bringing theories to HCI. Cognitive models such as Norman’s theory of action and Schneiderman’s direct manipulation framework are included in the basic HCI curriculum and resemble more to actual HCI theories than general models of human memory or perception. Cognitive modeling approach has also produced some of the most used methods of analyzing and evaluating user interfaces and usability, i.e. heuristic evaluation and cognitive walkthroughs (and also GOMS). Main critique towards cognitive modeling and its results has been about the level of details in the models. Models are always simplifications and it is difficult to keep an interaction model simple and include context of use and other complex external factors in to it.

The fourth chapter was a good overview of the classical theories (the book utilizes art historical division to classical, modern and contemporary as a way to structure the numerous different ways theories have been developed or brought in HCI). However, I felt that the classical theories were criticized quite heavily considering that they still are referred in every introductory book of HCI.

Rogers, Y. HCI Theory: Classical, Modern, and Contemporary.Synthesis Lectures on Human-Centered Informatics, May 2012, Vol. 5, No. 2

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