What is Cognitive Ergonomics?
Cognitive ergonomics is the field of study that focuses on how well the use of a product matches the cognitive capabilities of users. It draws on knowledge of human perception, mental processing, and memory. Rather than being a design discipline, it is a source of knowledge for designers to use as guidelines for ensuring good usability.
Cognitive ergonomics mainly focuses on work activities which:
- have an emphasized cognitive component (e.g., calculation, decision-making)
- are in safety-critical environments
- are in a complex, changeable environment (i.e., where tasks cannot be predetermined)
The first domains investigated by cognitive ergonomics were nuclear power plants, air traffic control systems, and medical anesthetics. Those situations feature complex environments (e.g., where there are many controls and switches—or many factors—coming into play) and where exceptional focus is needed so as to make decisions in potentially life-threatening situations. In the years following, many studies were conducted in “softer” domains such as banking, office work and leisure activities. The principles proved transferable between such environments.
Central to cognitive ergonomics is the notion of domain: the larger environment in which the system must operate, presenting both constraints and opportunities for the system. The field also studies the competencies and limitations of users in their interaction with the system in general (e.g., attention, perception errors, strategies, cognitive workload). In particular, it studies the cognitive artifacts they use to achieve their goals, as well as their co-operation with other actors. As a result, each cognitive ergonomic study operates with two underlying theories (implicit or explicit): a theory about the domain and a theory about human cognition. Since cognitive ergonomics covers both realms with such immediacy and addresses the interconnectivity of factors involved in use scenarios, designing with these considerations in mind helps ensure the usability of a product.
Literature on Cognitive Ergonomics
Here’s the entire UX literature on Cognitive Ergonomics by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:
Learn more about Cognitive Ergonomics
Take a deep dive into Cognitive Ergonomics with our course User Experience: The Beginner’s Guide .
User experience, or UX, has been a buzzword since about 2005, and according to tech research firm Gartner, the focus on digital experience is no longer limited to digital-born companies anymore. Chances are, you’ve heard of the term, or even have it on your portfolio. But, like most of us, there’s also a good chance that you sometimes feel unsure of what the term “user experience” actually covers.
[User experience] is used by people to say, ‘I’m a user experience designer, I design websites’, or ‘I design apps.’ […] and they think the experience is that simple device, the website, or the app, or who knows what. No! It’s everything—it’s the way you experience the world, it’s the way you experience your life, it’s the way you experience the service. Or, yeah, an app or a computer system. But it’s a system that’s everything.”
— Don Norman, pioneer and inventor of the term “user experience”, in an interview with NNGroup
As indicated by Don Norman, User Experience is an umbrella term that covers a number of different areas. When you work with user experience, it’s crucial to have a good understanding of what those areas are so that you know what tools are available to you.
Throughout this course, you will gain a thorough understanding of the various design principles that come together to create a user’s experience when using a product or service. As you proceed, you’ll learn the value user experience design brings to a project, and what areas you must consider when you want to design great user experiences. Because user experience is an evolving term, we can’t give you a definition of ‘user experience’ to end all discussions, but we will provide you with a solid understanding of the different aspects of user experience, so it becomes clear in your mind what is involved in creating great UX designs.
If you are new to the Interaction Design Foundation, this course is a great place to start because it brings together materials from many of our other courses. This provides you with both an excellent introduction to user experience and with a preview of the courses we have to offer to help you develop your future career. After each lesson, we will introduce you to the courses you can take if a specific topic has caught your attention. That way, you’ll find it easy to continue your learning journey.