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