Cognitive Artefacts: Accumulating human knowledge

Norman’s article helps me have a better understanding of cognitive artefacts. Human beings are unique because we have the ability to use language and actively create artefacts. With the help of artefacts, we can not only survive in the wild world, but dominate the modern intellectual world. And those artefacts that help us provoke our thinking and enhance our cognitive ability are called cognitive artefacts, the third-level artefacts for Cole. As human intelligence is constantly progressing, new technology come out and the cognitive artefacts are improved time by time. At the same time, the new cognitive artefacts are constantly refreshing our mind and giving us more ideas. It’s actually a mutually benefit process.

As a college student, books and libraries naturally become part of our life. In my understanding, library is like a cognitive architecture, and in this integrated framework, we can see the accumulating human knowledge from ancient time to the present.

Book as cognitive artefacts

Mess in reading room (Photo from blogs)

Books as cognitive artefacts allow us to offload massive memories, information and knowledge. For example, a history student doesn’t need to remember every event in the history. When he is about to write a research paper, he could actually find books that are related to his topic in the library and use them as references. When he is going to take an exam, he could also go to the library reading books, and his performance in the exam will be improved. From the system view, books enhance human being’s memory and improve their performance. From the personal view, he, the student, completes his task. He can do a good job on his paper and exam without memorizing everything.

Understanding books and library in distributed cognition approach

The distributed cognition approach built a bridge between the “external world” and the human cognitive process, it suggests the “boundary” should be broken and human cognition not only lies in human beings, but also relates to the external social and physical environment. In a library, the books are being categorized and distributed as “literary”, “technology”, “history”, and etc. In this way, we can have a basic understanding of this. The physical environment of library enhances our cognitive understanding of books.

Cognitive artefacts are constantly processing

Now let’s see how “books” look like today.

(Photo from

Kindle, one thin, small, and portable electronic devices, can actually contain all books from a library. And from my understanding, Kindle is a meta-medium. The Kindle system is actually like a library in which you can access to previously accumulative human knowledge and media: books, journals, and pictures.

We don’t know what “books” or Kindle will look like in the future. But one thing is for sure, as long as human intelligence is developing, the design of “books” will become more advanced and more comprehensive as a continuum of accumulating human knowledge.


Cole,Michael  On Cognitive Artifacts, From Cultural Psychology: A Once and Future Discipline. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996. Connected excerpts.

Irvine, M. (n.d.). Introduction to Cognitive Artefacts and Semiotic Technologies. Retrieved from:

Norman, A. Donald  “Cognitive Artifacts.” In Designing Interaction, edited by John M. Carroll, 17-38. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Read pp. 17-23.