Category Archives: Week 4

Symbols that evolve


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Recently I expressed to my father, who is in his mid-70’s, how it was ok if he became frustrated when trying to use his iPhone. “In fact,” I said, “given the world I grew up in compared to the world you grew up in, I am continuously impressed by your ability to work with new technology as well as you do.” Of course this usability across generations is by design. While I may be more familiar with modern visually-2D rounded off square icons than he is, it’s only because I was introduced to the concept of an icon at a young age when they still looked like 3D folders. We now see small children easily navigating devices that to my father still pose challenges.

Yet, given how fast icons have changed in just my lifetime, what is the true lasting communication ability of any particular visual interface? Icons may be designed to imitate buttons, but how long have buttons that we press been recognizable in society? 100 years, 150 years maybe? What is the half-life of a symbol?

While reading Kate Wong’s article on how symbols have been a fundamental part of human existence from the earliest of times, I couldn’t help but think about my father and a rather unique design challenge I learned of from the podcast 99 Percent Invisible. In 1990, a group of linguists, philosophers, anthropologists, and astrophysicists – to name a few – were convened to find a solution to a very modern problem: What symbol, signage, or physical construction could warn future generations of the dangers posed by a nuclear waste site?

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) is the US government’s only underground nuclear waste facility. Once the site is full and sealed, the area will remain dangerous for humans for an estimated 10,000 years. Since 10,000 years seemed to be an unsurmountable amount of time to plan for, the commission was given the flexibility of creating a symbol or signage that would communicate the danger for only 5,000 years – a big break.

They knew the answer had to be visual and not language based because of the evolution of language. Yet some of the most fundamental symbols of danger held hidden challenges. The most readily identifiable symbol of danger was a leading suggestion: the skull and crossbones.

https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/ten-thousand-years/

Unfortunately, even this seemingly fundamental warning it turns out was not so just as recently as the middle ages, roughly 1000 years ago. Back then it was depicted in Christian art as symbol of rebirth. It only became a widely known symbol of warning on the high seas when Caribbean pirates centuries later added it to their flags. Even communicating through a series of images posed a challenge:

https://99percentinvisible.org/article/beyond-biohazard-danger-symbols-cant-last-forever/

This comic strip only communicates danger if you read from left to right. Reading from right to left a once hazardous area becomes the fountain of youth.

Beyond just an interesting exercise, I find it reveals how modern user interface design must constantly change. Additionally, no symbolic design can or should be taken for granted. Yes people have associations with certain symbols, but those associations can easily change. Just look at this swatch of blue.

In our current day and age, this color and shape immediately conjure thoughts of Facebook, but what about IBM just a decade ago? Or simply the sky? Our interpretation of symbols are constantly evolving. This poses at once a challenge for designers of user interfaces who must plan for their symbols and process flows to endure through change, but it also opens up opportunities for creativity. Is that shape really the most effective design for accessing applications on mobile devices? Is there another option that would be more space efficient and easier to understand at a glance? What if there was a more text based option for older users unfamiliar with the interface? Seeing these design choices as simply choices, to be built upon or thrown away, is freeing. I’m looking forward to seeing what interface I’ll be dealing with in 10 and 20 years from now.

Kate Wong, “The Morning of the Modern Mind: Symbolic Culture.” Scientific American 292, no. 6 (June 2005): 86-95.

99 Percent Invisible. “Ten Thousand Years.” 5.12.14

Modern and Ancient Cognitive Artifacts


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When reading about cognitive artifacts, one tool that is integral to my everyday life quickly came to mind: Google Keep. It is a digital tool where I keep everything from grocery lists to reading lists and notes. Google Keep can be acutely defined by Norman’s definition of a cognitive artifact, it is designed to maintain, display and operate upon information ( Norman 1991).  Though the customizable nature and the data storage aspects of Google Keep are blackboxed to the user, upon reading about collective symbolic cognition and distributed cognition I have begun to understand why tools like Google Keep are attractive to many users including myself.

Google Keep, at its core, is a storage tool for symbolic cognition. As humans and naturally communicators, we are consistently creating and storing messages and symbols. This fact has been true since the prehistoric era when early humans drew in caves to document history and tell stories.  Google Keep is merely one way to document messages and symbols to store information ; in essence, it is a digital extension of language and thought( Cole 1996). Though users are able to write notes and lists in the tool, Google Keep is a tool that can also be used to share information. The ability to share notes and lists on Google Keep is a clear example of distributed cognition at work. The fact that I am able to share notes that can be easily understood is dependent on the collective knowledge of symbols and their meanings. In this sense, the notes and lists that I make are not individual as the items or books that I list are not unique to me, they can be accessed by the world. The collective symbolic cognition drives the sharing function on many digital tools including Google Keep.

This view of Google Keep as a cognitive technology makes the tool seem less unique and complex than it actually is. The design of Google Keep  is clearly rooted in historical examples of cognitive tools. Google Keep is a little more advanced than cave drawings from 30,000 BC, at its core these two technologies are for humans to document thoughts and ideas. Google Keep is much more portable than a cave and the ideas that exist in it may be more complex, but through understanding of cognitive technologies, the similarity between ancient documentation methods and modern ones has become clear.

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

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

Google Maps and My Brain


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At this point, I view Google Maps almost as an extension of my consciousness. Anytime I move to a new city, or even traverse a new area of my own city, I have Google Maps up and running on my phone. Google Maps is the cognitive artifact in my life that most clearly illustrates the point that I am able to “offload” some of my cognitive load onto an artifact.

When I’m deciding when I need to leave to arrive at a place on time, I don’t have to wonder which way will be the fastest or calculate how long my journey will take. I simply type in an address on Google Maps, and the app presents me with multiple routes, methods, and times that my journey will take. Thus, instead of having to work through the cognition required to calculate all that information myself, I just allow Google Maps to do the work for me. The cognition required to calculate all this information was distributed among the engineers and designers who collaborated to build Google Maps, and Google Maps, as a cognitive artifact, gives me access to this distributed cognition.

When I’m exploring or deciding where to go out, I’m biased to think that areas within the orange/brown shaded areas are somehow better or more interesting. 

Additionally, Google Maps has had a profound impact on how I view the world around me. Google Maps, fundamentally, is a symbolic representation of the world in which I live. Streets become lines, my movement becomes a highlighted path, buildings and destinations become blocks and pins, and even I become a glowing blue dot in the representative world of Google Maps. Before I consider going to a neighborhood, I’ll look at it’s representation on Google Maps. If the area is shaded a different color, indicating that it is an “area of interest,” I’m more likely to want to go to that area. When I’m walking around, I’ll orient myself in the real world based off the stores and points that are the most prominent on Google Maps.

With how much trust I give to Google Maps to perform supplementary cognition for me, I do not stop often enough to consider the influences that advertising and a profit-driven product have on me. The ability to view the world in a traversable representation is great and powerful, but if the highlights of this world are determined around commerce and consumption, what potential benefits am I missing out on? How could a cognitive artifact that allows me to accessibly view the world around me be improved if it didn’t have to answer to the burden of profit?

References:

Li, M. (2016, July 25). Discover the action around you with the updated Google Maps. Retrieved from https://www.blog.google/products/maps/discover-action-around-you-with-updated/

Evernote as a Cognitive Artifact


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Huazhi Qin

During my reading, I find Evernote a great example for me to understand the definition and functions of cognitive artifacts.

According to Donald A. Norman, “a cognitive artifact is an artificial device designed to maintain, display, or operate upon information in order to serve a representational function (Norman, 1991) Evernote is a widely-used app for note taking. In addition to creating notes, it also allows users to sort notes into a notebook, add tags, give annotations or comments, reedit, search and share information.

As what Cole described, artifacts are objectifications of human needs and intentions already invested with cognitive and affective content. In other words, it is manufactured for a reason and put into use. (Cole, 1996) Evernote fulfills users’ needs to edit, save, view and share information. Also, it closely connects with other stuffs including record system, camera, local and cloud storage in order to provide broader services.

With regard to its functions, as what Clark mentioned, cognitive artifacts make the contribution to “the extension of our bodies, the extension of our senses, and crucially, the use of language as a tool to extend our thought”. (Clark, 2008) From system view, it enhances users’ capability of storage, archiving, memory and performance. For example, the form and format of note-taking are broadly expanded. Users are able to record sounds, save websites, and take videos and photos instead of simply typing or writing down texts. Moreover, rather than merely on a particular notebook, users can get access to their notes, the information saved on cloud database, on multiple devices using the same account.

From personal view, cognitive artifacts affect how the task to be performed. Every user is allowed to use Evernote and organize the notes by integrating their own rules and organizational system. For instance, they might own their unique series of tags or implement categorization methods to better suit their needs.

According to what Norman said, artifacts can distribute the actions across time, across people and change the actions required of the individuals doing the activity. (Norman, 1991) It is similar to what Evernote proposes in its own video that Evernote is the software that takes every notes in ever ways and goes everywhere every time.

At last, the video below is an introduction about “what is Evernote”.

References

Andy Clark. (2008). Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension . New York, USA: Oxford University Press.

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

Donald A. Norman. (1991). Cognitive Artifacts. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Nintendo Switch: Gaming with HCI


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Tianyi Zhao

Human-computer interaction (HCI) is currently a ubiquitous terminology and technology so that everybody in the globe is under its influence and is empowered by it. Gaming, as an emerging high-profit market with huge amount of loyal and potential customers, is becoming more significant and highly demanded on user experience, and obviously, establishing HCI is a good choice. That is why Nintendo Switch, the latest of product from the company, has been one of the most popular gaming console around the world.

To begin with, more games on Switch has leveraged with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) techniques. As HCI “has focused almost exclusively on single individuals interacting with applications…,” (Hollan 192) the utilization of VR boosts user experience up to a much higher level. Launched in 2018, Nintendo LABO is a typical one and deserves to be studied. The series game has different kits in which each includes a box of cardboard (hardware) and the matching software. The user can firstly assembly the cardboard and then connect it with the console. The games are quite diverse, such as playing the piano, going fishing, racing, even transforming to robot, etc. The cooperation of both real and virtual enhances human’s cognitive capabilities so that we can play the piano when there is no real one or experience fishing without being seaside. Switch, as a cognitive artefact can enhance human’s performance without amplifying their abilities, like a boy can easily realize his TRANSFORMER dream with a robot kit and a Switch.

Furthermore, the design for Switch’s playing modes is unique. There are three gameplay modes with the least accessories attached. The first one is “TV Mode” in which the console should be docked in Switch Dock Station to support larger resolutions on television. The second one is “Handheld Mode” in which Switch acts like a portable tablet device. The last one is called “Tabletop Mode.” Users can place the console on a table or similar surface with a kickstand to share games with friends as each one holds a Joy-Con to control.

According to Professor Martin Irvine, how technologies “support all the functions and activities associated with symbolic cognition and expression” is the start of the fundamental questions. The brief analysis of Nintendo Switch shows that HCI has been fast growing in gaming industry, and it is still permeating and expanding to other fields.

 

Works Cited

Irvine, Martin. “Introduction to Cognitive Artefacts and Semiotic Technologies”.

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

James, Edwin, and David Kirsch. “Distributed Cognition: Toward a New Foundation for Human-computer Interaction Research.” ACM Transactions, Computer-Human Interaction 7, no.2 (June 2000): 174-196.

Week 4 Essay


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ZIJING LIU

Throughout the history, reading is constantly changing. Initially, people read symbols that engraved on cave stones, then parchment and paper were applied to use, now Kindle plays an essential role in reading. The interaction between symbolic technologies and mankind have become more and more close-knit. When reading an online book by Kindle, people actually see a series of characters, or digital symbols, on the screen. When we try to highlight sentences or make comments, we are not only communicating with our intentions with symbolic technologies, but also communicating with future selves—that is, for instance, when we reread a book and see the mark we left, we may obtain deeper understanding and new achievement. We are connected with ourselves by cognitive artifacts. The enhancement and convenience of the interconnection of present selves to the future as well as the past—even long trace back to our ancestors—allows the functions of cognitive artifacts increasingly powerful.

So obviously, we cannot simply classify the computational and media technologies as “machines” or “manufactured products”, since they have already internalized in human beings. They have become part of us, they are us. Consider the growing significance of smart phones (or other cognitive technologies) mean to us. They no longer merely served as the communication tools: they help us remember the impending schedules in calendar, do shopping with simply one-click, socialize with our friends without meeting and permeate every corner of our lives. Without these technologies, I cannot image what our lives will become. We may not accomplish anything, or even die. Hence, the viewpoint of “cognitive technologies” and “symbolic-cognitive artifacts” emphasis more on the interaction and internalization of technologies to human beings. Serving human purposes is the primary goal of technologies as well as its design principles.

As the definition of “machine” goes: a constructed thing whether material or immaterial; an assemblage of parts that transmit forces, motion, and energy one to another in a predetermined manner (Merriam Webster). As far as I concerned, however, “machines” and “manufactured products” are more like something isolated and externalized, which overlook the relationship between technologies and human beings. To sum up, to better understand the role of computational and media technologies play is to better understand ourselves.

Another interesting argument I read in Norman’s “Cognitive Artifacts” is that the preparatory task, such as to-do list, creates nuisance and lead to new classes of errors, some of which may resemble those that would occur without the use of checklist. As cognitive technologies grow more deeply rooted in human, does it actually create new troubles instead of simplifying our lives? How to elude the risks? Are we lost among these technologies? I believe this is another intriguing topic for us to concern with, especially in the design area.

References

Martin Irvine, “Introduction to Cognitive Artefacts and Semiotic Technologies” (seminar unit intro).

Kate Wong, “The Morning of the Modern Mind: Symbolic Culture.” Scientific American 292, no. 6 (June 2005): 86-95.

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

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

Andy Clark, Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, USA, 2008) (Excerpt).

Weekly Writing for Week 4


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Banruo Xiao

I still remember how hard it was for my family to drive to an unknown place before navigation GPS was created. We had a map but can hardly follow it, since no one can always pay all attention on it. We followed the street name sign, but the road was sometimes in construction so that we had to take a detour. We could ask people passing by but would get lost while no one was on the road.

The creation of online navigation platform, such as Google map, saves our life. The only thing I need to do is typing in the name of the destination. It will automatically choose the appropriate route, and it has a voice prompt guiding me to the right direction. Image and language are two of the oldest symbolic techniques that people use them to understand and to communicate. Google map transforms the whole real world into a symbolic depiction of the relationship between elements in the space. The voice prompts Google adopted can easily provide guidance and can avoid user to keep eyes on the screen.

According to Michael Cole (1996), Google map, as an artifact, becomes the mediator and changes the interaction between users and the real world. From a personal view, Google map changes user’s task from seeking for a right way to following its guidance (Donald A. Norman, 1991). It is also a distributed cognitive process coordinating people and their immediate environment (James Hollan, Edwin Hutchins, and David Kirsh, 2000).

From a theoretical perspective, I can explain the design of online navigation platform in dozens of academic definition. However, for people in the real world, it truly changes the way we interacts with the external environment. In fact, all the tools and technologies, from the first compass to today’s AR embedded navigation application, make people better adapt to the surrounding environment.

week 4 discussion


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It’s fascinating to start thinking about how technology changes human’s daily lives and how we designed the technologies based on our lives.

As Professor Irvine mentions in his introduction, the cognitive technologies “provides an orientation to the interdisciplinary research and theory traditions that provide foundational thinking about the design principles behind our “technologies of meaning (Irvine).” By getting in touch with the knowledge of cognitive technologies, we now can sneak a pick on why certain technologies was designed in the certain way. As well as gaining a better understanding on human-computer interaction.

By understanding the cognitive technologies and the rationale of design, we can also see how it impacts the human-computer interaction. As Norman states in his article, “a cognitive artifact is an artificial device designed to maintain, display, or operate upon information in order to serve a representational function (Norman).”

So use calculator as an example, the calculator function can easily solve the math issues, even can also draw graphs so that we people don’t need to write it down, take hours to calculate it by ourselves with complicated steps. The calculator function was designed because calculating for humans takes too much time and it’s so easy for us to make a small mistake to ruin the whole calculation and the result. For nowadays people to see, that there is no need and pointless to do the calculation by ourselves, because the computer will take this boring and complicate job. Making human’s life easier, and extend the world are two of the most important design principle of technologies.

Here is a short video talks about cognitive computing.

 

Martin Irvine, “Introduction to Cognitive Artefacts and Semiotic Technologies” (seminar unit intro).

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

Week 4 – Reading Reflection


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The most impressive achievement from this weeks’ readings is to know this: all technologies and forms of media belong to everyone.

All that digital, computational, and networked is a continuum of design concepts and prior histories that merge together in the design principles of our current artefacts. These artefacts are of collective human symbolic cognition. Things that we take for granted–languages we use, symbols, mathematics, computation, software—are all cognitive and semiotic artefacts. Technologies are not something cold and perplexing. Claims that intend to divide human culture and technology are arbitrary. “All these technologies and forms of media belong to everyone.” That sounds so human and poetic. We are all equal in front of technology because we are all human beings. We share the same principles that made of universal values. We know how to create machines not because we “think” but we “cognize”–we are able to fathom those invisible patterns and mechanisms that function throughout centuries as well as we could feel blood runs warm in our veins.

The ability to cognize things is magic. If we metaphorize it, it is kind of like the “mysterious black monolith” in 2001: A Space Odyssey, which inspired the prehistoric apes to teach themselves that bones can be used as weapons and thus invent their first tool. “The invention of external storage of information— whether in jewelry, art, language or tools—was the watershed event in modern human behavioral evolution.” The moment homo sapiens started to shape their symbolic thoughts, history began. “Mysterious black monolith” is transcendental indeed. Maybe its smooth artificial surfaces and right angles, which was obviously made by intelligent beings, eventually triggered the realization in the ape’s brain that intelligence could be used to shape the objects of the world. Then comes the most famous flash-forward in the cinema history: the bone was throwing into the sky and morphed into a spacecraft. Nothing different. It’s just another tool for conquering. One more thing about this film: Kubrick can show us a world full of technologies that were not even born in 1968—the design of the cabin, the details of in-flight service, HAL 9000, etc.—not because of his own talent greatness. He just did enough homework on existing designs and what human need next. No matter it was way back in prehistory or in the faraway future, what people want are essentially the same. And all the seeds of invention germinate from that bone.

In the article “The Morning of the Modern Mind”, tons of discoveries show that behavioral modernity arose earlier than we thought. I have never felt so connected with so-called “ancestors” until those pictures told me they paint, take notes, play the flute. Homo sapiens dressed up themselves with “fashion” accessories since they care about how they look as much as we do. That connection is something immortal. The same feeling came to me when I saw Lawrence Krauss’ quote on cosmic connections. “Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: you are all stardust.” That’s why we share common feelings, intentions, thoughts, and meanings. That’s why we create signs, communicating media, information processing, memory storage, and other systems. That’s why all those designs can be theorized into a system of laws that is invisible but totally universal. Those principles are like veins under the skin. Cognitive science is the key to unveiling them.

Credits to:

Martin Irvine, “Introduction to Cognitive Artefacts and Semiotic Technologies” (seminar unit intro).

Kate Wong, “The Morning of the Modern Mind: Symbolic Culture.” Scientific American 292, no. 6 (June 2005): 86-95.
Michael Cole, On Cognitive Artifacts, From Cultural Psychology: A Once and Future Discipline. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Kubrick, S. (April 2, 1968). 2001: A space odyssey [motion picture]. United States & United Kingdom: Stanley Kubrick Productions.