Technology and Human Cognition

Updated: Sep 19, 2018

In this article I talk about 3 discrete examples of technology and describe how they allow learning to occur, how they map interactions/tasks according to human cognition and learning models, how they use visual affordances to suggest more functional elements, and how they encourage expertise development within their product/service.


1. Coach Marks

Coach Marks helps users to understand an interface in a series of steps or tasks.

Usage: Mostly commonly used in digital interfaces such as software applications. HCI Terminology covered: Motor systems and long-term memory.

Description: Coach marks become popular in recent years because of a number of newer/re-designed applications. It helps users quickly glance through and understand the interface in a short period of time.

  • For users, it saves time by not reading the manual or contacting customer representatives.

  • For developers provide quick product tour. Thus, avoiding the chance of losing existing customers.

Example A: Affinity Designer launched (arguably Adobe Photoshop’s biggest competition), it had coach marks on them. Since people have been accustomed to the Photoshop interface, Affinity Designer mimics some of the key components. It helped users by providing a familiar interface, which triggers designers’ long-term memory.

Example B: Even though some of the HCI terminologies gained popularity in recent years. Few of these methods have been used more than a decade ago. When Warcraft 3 launched in 2002, there weren’t many multiplayer games with a bird-eye view. The developers added interactive tasks (which works as coach marks) to let players move their heroes and carry out simple tasks. These simple tasks lead players to improve their motor systems in a multiplayer environment and eventually becoming part of their long-term memory.


2. Help: Active and passive help - Implications & language

Usage: Commonly used in software


HCI Terminology covered: Learning (active and passive)


Active: Most users might need quick information of a tool/feature which would help them complete their task. Active help conveys users a short message which helps them implement immediately.


Passive: A Traditional manual is a standard form of instructions for users considered as passive help. Language is extremely important in passive help. Using right words help users to reduce cognitive load.


Example a: Most software has help on their menu. Usually, this provides a detailed explanation of all the features of the software.


Pros: Extensive knowledge gain.


Cons: Amount of time spent is a lot more compared to active help.


Example b: Zbrush is a good example of active help. Not only it displays the hotkey on their menu but if the user felt like they need a bit more information at the moment. They can hold shift and it provides additional couples of messages for the user about the particular feature.


3. Powerful Pattern Recognition

The pattern helps users to recognize an upcoming event and make decisions.


Usage: Digital and physical products


HCI Terminology used: Powerful Pattern recognition


In few MMORPG games, certain areas of the maps have hues of certain colors. Commonly used colors for pattern reorganization is blue and red. Blue when nearing player’s side and red when moving towards the enemy team.


Example a: Baron, from League of Legends game, an underground creature which breaks apart the land to reach the surface. When players navigate their champion towards the baron, the cracked surface is noticeable. This implies the user that they navigate towards baron.


Example b: Physical products such as cellphone, stoves have their buttons grouped up based on the tasks they perform.



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