HCC'02 Tutorial

Design for Usability with Cognitive Dimensions

Alan Blackwell, University of Cambridge

Friday, September 6, 2002


Most usability assessment techniques are simply fire-fighting tools. They allow assessors to criticise an interface specification or a prototype, but this advice often comes too late. The alternative is to design for usability by fitting the system to the structure of the work that it must support. Green's Cognitive Dimensions Framework is one of the few theoretical approaches that provides a usability methodology for analysts and designers. Cognitive dimensions provide a vocabulary with which designers can articulate concepts that they may have recognised, but had no name for. The dimensions also provide a means of analysing the trade-offs in usability that necessarily arise during interaction design.

This tutorial will provide a concise introduction to the theoretical basis of the Cognitive Dimensions, then will concentrate on their practical application in system design contexts. A range of applications and product simulations will be analysed and redesigned by tutorial participants in order to gain experience of cognitive dimensions during actual design exercises. By the end of the tutorial, participants will have learned the skills necessary for application of Cognitive Dimensions to their own design projects.

Who Can Benefit From This Tutorial

The tutorial should be accessible to all interested participants.

About the Speaker

Alan Blackwell is a lecturer in the Cambridge University Computer Laboratory, with qualifications in professional engineering and experimental psychology. He has 12 years experience of designing industrial systems and software products. In 2001/2002 he is teaching design-related courses in the Computer Laboratory and Architecture Faculty. He is a Fellow of Darwin College and of the Cambridge-MIT Institute.

Alan has been designing visual languages since 1983, and completed his PhD studying with Thomas Green, the developer of the Cognitive Dimensions of Notations framework. The two continue to work together on development of theory, practice and educational material related to Cognitive Dimensions. Alan also takes a broader interdisciplinary perspective on the use of visual representations through his central involvement with the establishment of the Thinking with Diagrams research community.

Last modification: 6/5/2002, Mark Minas