Category Archives: research

Principles of Designing for Humans on edX

2) Principles of Designing for Humans

Retrieval Practice

This was another class where I attempted to use an idea similar to Retrieval Practice while studying the content. Essentially, I would watch a video all the way through and then try and write down anything that I remembered. I would then rewatch the video and stop the video to take notes. I found this to be helpful but it did take more time to “get through” the material. Mid-way through the week, I moved to just stopping the video and taking notes. I picked up the process again in the following weeks. Here are some of my takeaways from the material.

Week 1: Visual Perception and Memory. The visual perception of the human brain is limited. We only have a five degree of central vision range of full focus. Peripheral vision can’t be used for reading it is too out of focus. You must jump around to read. Humans scan pages using eye fixations to move from one word to the next these are called “sa-ka-ds” (saccades). We don’t usually look at the whole page we look at what is most important for us when completing a specific task. Just because something is on a page it does not mean it will be read.

Based on research by Jacob Nielsen the most common pattern of reading on the web is the F shape (for left-to-right languages). Some important principles to remember are:

  • Make important info and actions visible: If something is not visible users can’t interact with it.
  • Leverage how users read: Am I using these patterns?
  • When evaluating ask yourself “did they see it?”, Can they find it? , Did they misunderstand what it meant?

Visual psychology suggests several stages of visual perception. We move from photons to images. The three stages are:

  1. Features
  2. Patterns
  3. Recognizable Objects

According to the course, the Gestalt School of Psychology studies the way that pattern works and created a set of principles on how the eye breaks up the visual field. These principles are:

  • Proximity (nearness means the items are associated)
  • Closure and continuation (we fill in gaps with likely solutions and context helps. Bk means back in the sentence “be right back”)
  • Symmetry (we see something like a single object)
  • Similarity (like things are part of a group)
  • Common area (share a common boundary seen as a group)
  • Common fate (move together those are a different pattern)


Moving from visual perception to memory requires attention and moving from short-term to long-term memory. Our short-term memory is limited and according to Miller the magic number 7+/-2 items (Miller’s Law 1956). Cowan reduced this number to 4+/-1 (Cowan, 2010). Anything that isn’t retained is lost. Learning happens when we move something from short to long-term memory.

Short-term memory is limited. Here are some UX principles based on this idea. (Attention)

  • Keep lists of options short: Keep within the range of magic numbers
  • Give users tools for reducing options
  • Compare against each other
  • Don’t expect users to remember stuff (from one screen to the next)

There are several ways to transfer something to long-term memory these include association and repetition.


Learning will work better if the learner can fit the new material into a schema

  • Use metaphors: An example is the shopping cart on Amazon
  • Leverage standards and consistency: Menu structure: Use one system can transfer information to the next.
  • Avoid asking users to memorize information

Prefer recognition over recall

    • Search terms we need to create but Google added autocomplete search terms.

These ideas come from cognitive psychology. I really like these ideas for the principles they provide but I’m not sure we really have all the answers on how the mind and senses work.

Week 2 Norman’s model of Action, the Gulfs of Execution and Evaluation, and Design Principles

In Don Norman’s book The Design of Everyday Things, he describes a seven stage model of action anyone takes to accomplish an outcome. These steps are:

  • Determine a goal
  • Choose a path
  • Act
  • Look at the world for feedback
  • Determine if you were successful
  • Act again

Elaborating on Norman’s model of actions the model can be divided into two parts: actions that the user takes to change the world and the feedback the user gets from the world of that action.

  • The gulf of execution is that the user can see they’ve done an action in the world.
  • The gulf of evaluation is the signal the world or system provides back because of that action. Did this action get me closer or further away from my goal?

Discoverability is the way we bridge the gulfs of execution and evaluation.

  • Execution: users can figure out (discover) what actions are possible
  • Evaluation: users can discover whether the actions were successful

Principles supporting discoverability

  • Affordances: the feature of an object or environment that indicates the possibility of action.
  • Signifiers: Message of what will happen if you take this action.
  • Feedback: users need to know that the system heard them and will do something about their action.
  • Constraints: You can only take certain actions.
  • Conceptual Models: support simulation of future actions because they understand how the system is set up.
  • Consistency:  What users learn in one place they can apply to another.
  • Metaphor: Rapidly communicate an idea about a function

Week 3 Nielsen’s Heuristics for Design

There are lots of guidelines for usability but the downside about guidelines is that they are very detailed and very specific. For example, has around 300 guidelines. Created by Nielsen (1994), heuristic evaluations offer an alternative to formal usability testing and are “cheap, fast, and easy to use” (p. 24). Heuristic evaluations are a discount method for highlighting usability issues in a user interface so they can be dealt with as part of the iterative design process (Nielsen, 1994).

Jacob Nielsen’s 10 heuristics cover the most important areas to consider and are generalizable. His list is derived from a systematic review of usability problems, is intended to be small and complete, able to be taught in a few hours and is well-supported by theories of perception and cognition. You can read them in 10 Heuristics for User Interface Design

Week 4 Heuristic Evaluation and Report

Most heuristic evaluations include several segments. The initial segment involves training evaluators to understand Nielsen’s heuristics. The evaluators then conduct their analysis during the second segment. The analysis is then followed by a debrief where the evaluators discuss their findings with each other. The fourth and final part includes evaluators assigning severity ratings to the usability problems (Nielsen, 1994, p. 38).

The Designing for Humans course included most but not all of these segments. I was trained on Nielsen’s heuristics, conducted an analysis of the edX discussion board, and individually assigned severity ratings to the issues. A debriefing on the issues occurred asynchronously in the form of peer reviews of usability problems with other evaluators. The only one of Nielsen’s segments not included in this evaluation is a collaboration among a team of evaluators to agree on the issues together and then assign a severity score. 

You can read my report below.

Report Cover

What is Systemic-Functional Linguistics?

In Steinkuehler, C. A. (2006). Massively multiplayer online videogaming as participation in a Discourse. Mind, Culture & Activity, 13(1), 38-52, the author uses functional linguistics as a way of analyzing the utterance of one of the players of Lineage. But what is systemic functional linguistics and where did she get the categories she was using interpersonal and ideational semantics? The Systemic Functional Linguistics page provides a summary quote from the this group:

“A central notion is ‘stratification’, such that language is analysed in terms of four strata: Context, Semantics, Lexico-Grammar and Phonology-Graphology.

Context concerns

  • the Field (what is going on),
  • Tenor (the social roles and relationships between the participants),
  • the Mode (aspects of the channel of communication, e.g., monologic/dialogic, spoken/written, +/- visual-contact, etc.).

Systemic semantics includes what is usually called ‘pragmatics’. Semantics is divided into three components:

  • Ideational Semantics (the propositional content);
  • Interpersonal Semantics (concerned with speech-function, exchange structure, expression of attitude, etc.);
  • Textual Semantics (how the text is structured as a message, e.g., theme-structure, given/new, rhetorical structure etc.

The Lexico-Grammar concerns the syntactic organisation of words into utterances. Even here, a functional approach is taken, involving analysis of the utterance in terms of roles such as Actor, Agent/Medium, Theme, Mood, etc. (See Halliday 1994 for full description).”

Steinkuehler, C. A. (2006). Massively multiplayer online videogaming as participation in a Discourse. Mind, Culture & Activity, 13(1), 38-52.

Steinkuehler, C. A. (2006). Massively multiplayer online videogaming as participation in a Discourse. Mind, Culture & Activity, 13(1), 38-52.

Notes from reading:

Psychology has moved from the 1950 just considering Behaviorism concerns of stimulus response to including “symbolic processing theory,” that included a mind between the stimulus and response.

Cognition has changed to also consider context through which the mind works. “Despite the internal diversity, researchers working under these paradigms have shared a view of cognition as (inter)action in the social and material world.” (p. 2)

“Yet, work in functional linguistics demonstrates that all language-in-use functions not only as a vehicle for conveying information but also, and equally as important, as part and parcel of ongoing activities and as a means for enacting human relationships (Gee, 1999). To take a simple example, consider the statement “Mistakes were made” versus “I made mis-takes.” In the first utterance, I am engaging in an “information-giving” activity that foregrounds the ideational and shrouds agency. In the second, I am engaging in an “apology-giving” activity that foregrounds my responsibility for whatever conundrum occurred and does repair work on my social relationships with whoever my audience may be.” (p. 2)

The COI Framework and Social Presence

Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan N.D. (2008) Blended Learning in Higher Education Framework, Principles, and Guidelines. San Francisco: Jossey- Bass.

Outside of the domains of virtual reality, game-based learning, and MUVEs, the field of online education and blended learning has been interested in three kinds of presence not explored in current virtual-reality measurement tools. This framework is called the Community of Inquiry (COI) framework. According to Garrison and Vaughan (2008) the COI framework was created by “Garrison and his colleagues (2000) to guide the research and practice of online learning… and is grounded in the larger field of education.” Garrison explains the success of his framework because “it builds on ideas that are essential to higher education—community and inquiry. Community, on the one hand, recognizes the social nature of education and the role that interaction, collaboration, and discourse in constructing knowledge.”  “Inquiry, on the other hand, reflects the process of constructing meaning through personal responsibility and choice.” (p. 9) Garrison and Vaughan explain that a successful community of inquiry includes three critical elements “social presence, teacher presence, and cognitive presence.” (p. 9) These authors explain that social presence includes the categories of “open communication,” “cohesive responses,” and “affective/personal connections”. (p. 19) As an example of an indicator of open communication, the authors suggest “risk-free expression” should be present. (p. 19) As an indicator of cohesive responses the authors suggest, “groups encourage collaboration.” (p. 19) As an indicator of affective/personal connections the authors suggest, the ability to “express emotions and camaraderie.” (p. 19)

The following table compares the COI framework’s characterization of social presence with two of the three constructs of social presence in the TPI. While the comparison in the table below is not a one-to-one relationship it does appear that there are some similarities between the two ideas of social presence across disciplines.

COI Framework for Social Presence TPI Construct Questions
Social Presence Open Communication: “Students are encouraged to project themselves personally and academically. Students must feel emotionally secure to engage in open, purposeful discourse.” (p. 20) Social Presence: Actor W/I Medium (Parasocial interaction).

To what extent did you feel you could interact with the person or people you saw/heard?

How often did it feel as if someone you saw/heard in the environment was talking directly to you?

Seeing and hearing a person through a medium constitutes an interaction with him or her. How much control over the interaction with the person or people you saw/heard did you feel you had?

Social Presence Cohesive Responses: “Therefore, social presence must provide the cohesive tension to sustain participation and focus. Social cohesion sustains the COI.” (p. 20) Social Presence: Active Interpersonal.

How often did you want to or did you speak to a person you saw/heard in the media environment?

Social Presence: Affective Personal Connections:  “Expressing express emotions and camaraderie.” (p. 19) Social Presence: Active Interpersonal.

How often did you make a sound out loud (e.g. laugh or speak) in response to someone you saw/heard in the media environment?

How often did you smile in response to someone you saw/heard in the media environment?

My Stanzas (several lines on a topic) and Macrostructures (larger chunks of insformation)

Here is an initial Tag Cloud of my stanzas and macrostructures.

Simplified Stanzas

created at


created at

More on Gee’s Discourse Analysis

According to Gee (2005) a prominent discourse analyst, language allows us to take on different socially significant identities. Gee sees a connection between saying, doing, and being and calls different identities such as gamer, teacher, and social worker as “different Discourses” (p. 2). In his book An Introduction to Discourse Analysis Theory and Method, Gee (2011) outlines his ideas about language use as “we always (often simultaneously) construct or build seven things or seven areas of ‘reality’, ” (p 17). These seven different kinds of “building tasks,” are defined by Gee as: significance, practices (activities), identities, relationships, politics (distribution of social goods), connections, and sign systems and knowledge (p 19).  Each of these different kinds of building tasks has specific questions that can be asked about a spoken or written piece of language.

  • Significance is when language is used to “render something significant or insignificant,” (p 17). Questions associated with this building task are “How is this piece of language being used to make certain things significant or       not and in what ways?” (p 17)
  • Practices are “social recognized and institutionally or culturally supported endeavor[s] that usually involve sequencing or combining actions in certain ways” (p 17).  Questions associated with this building task are “What practice (activity) is this piece of language being used in enact (i.e. getting others to recognize as going on)?” (p 18).
  • Identities are how language is used when we are “taking on a certain role or identity,” (p 18). Questions associated with this building task are “What identity of identities is the piece of language being used to enact (i.e. get others to recognize as operative)? What identity or identities is this piece of language attributing to others and how does this enact the speakers’ identity?” (p 18).
  • Relationships are how language is used to express relationships “we have, want to have, or are trying to have” with others (p 18). Questions associated with this building task include: “What sort of relationship is this piece of language seeking to enact with others (present or not)?” (p 19).
  • Politics (distribution of social goods) is “the use of language to build a perspective on social goods,” (p 19). Gee clarifies social goods as statements or implications that “something is ‘adequate,’ ‘normal,’ ‘good,’ or ‘acceptable’ (or the opposite)…to some group in society,” (p 19). What perspective on social goods is this piece of language communicating (i.e. what is being communicated as to   what is taken as being “normal,” “right,” “good,” “correct,” “proper,” “appropriate,” “valuable,” “the way things are,” “the way things ought to be,” “high status,” or “low status” “like me” or “not like me” and so forth)?” (p 19).
  • Connections are “the use of language to render something connected or relevant to other things, ” (p 19). Questions associated with this building task are “How does this piece of language connect or disconnect things?” and “How does it make one thing relevant or irrelevant to another?” (p 19).
  • Sign Systems and Knowledge are how language and certain sign systems “are privileged over others” (p 20). Questions associated with this building task include: “How does this piece of language privilege or disprivilege specific sign systems (e.g. Spanish vs. English, technical language vs. everyday language, words vs. images, words vs. equations, etc) or different ways of knowing and believing or claims to knowledge and belief (e.g. sciences vs. the Humanities, science vs. “common sense,” biology vs. “creation science”)?” (p 20).

Once a single building task or multiple tasks are selected, Gee suggests choosing some of the tools of inquiry that best meet the context to conduct a discourse analysis. The tools of inquiry, like building tasks, are ways of looking at how language is used in different settings. The tools of inquiry include: social languages, discourses, conversations, intertextuality, situated meanings, and figured worlds.

  • Social Languages in general terms are “different styles or varieties of languages used for different purposes” and are used to “enact different identities in different settings” (p 28). The questions associated with this tool of inquiry are “What social language is involved? What sorts of grammatical patterns indicate this? Are different social languages mixed? How so?,” (p 60).
  • Discourses are according to Gee are “characteristic ways of ways of thinking, acting, interacting, valuing, feeling, and believing,” (p 28). The questions associated with this building task are “What Discourse or Discourses are involved? How is stuff other than language…relevant in indicating socially situated identities and activities? In considering this language, what sorts of relationships among different discourses are involved? How are different Discourses aligned or in contention here?,” (p 60).
  • Conversations are allusions to “themes, debates, or motifs that have been the focus of much talk and writing in certain social group…or in our society as a whole,” (p 28). Questions that focus on conversations include “What Conversations… are relevant to understanding this language and to what Conversations does it contribute?,” (p 60).
  • Intertextuality refers to references to “words other people have said or written,” (p 28). The questions relating to this building task are “How does Intertextuality work in the text, that is, in what ways does the text quote, allude to, or otherwise borrow words from other oral or written sources? What function does this serve in the text?,” (p 60).
  • Situated meanings are “particular language forms take on specific or situated meanings in different contexts of use,” (p 65). The question associated with this building task include the following: “What situated meaning or meanings for a given word or phrase is it reasonable to attribute to their author considering the Discourse in which words were used?, What situated meaning or meanings for a given word or phrase is it reasonable to attribute to those who are listening or reading these words or phases, again considering the Discourse in which the words are used?, What situated meaning or meanings for a given word or phrase is it reasonable to attribute to those who are listening or reading these words or phases, from the point of view of other Discourses than the one in which the words were uttered or written? What situated meaning or meanings is it reasonable, from the point of view of the Discourse in which these words were used or by other Discourses, to assume are potentially attributable to these words by interpreters, whether or not we have evidence anyone actually activated that potential meaning in the current case?” (p 73).
  • Figured Worlds are mental “picture[s] of a simplified world that captures what is taken to be typical or normal,” (p 71). Gee also explains that there can be three kinds of figured worlds: specifically “espoused worlds, evaluative worlds, worlds in-interaction.” (p 90). Gee suggests that espoused worlds are those “theories, stories, ways of looking at the world which we consciously espouse,” while evaluative worlds are used to “consciously or unconsciously…judge ourselves or others,” (90). Figured worlds in-interaction are those worlds that “consciously or unconsciously…guide our actions (regardless of what we say or think we believe),” (p 90). The questions that guide this tool of inquiry include: “What figured worlds are relevant here? What must I as an analyst, assume people feel, value, and believe, consciously or not, in order to talk (write), act, and/or interact this way? Are there differences here between the figured worlds that are affecting espoused beliefs and those that are affecting actual actions and practices? What sorts of figured worlds, if any are being used here to make value judgments about oneself or others? How consistent are the relevant figured worlds here? Are there competing or conflicting figured worlds at play? Whose interests are the figured worlds representing? What other figured worlds are related to ones most active here? Are their ‘master figured worlds’ at world? What sorts of texts, media, experiences, interactions/ and or institutions, could have given rise to these figured worlds? How are the relevant figured worlds here helping to reproduce, transform or create social, cultural, institutional, and/or political relationships? What Discourses and Conversations are these figured worlds helping to reproduce, transform, or create?” (p 95-96).

Given the large number of possible questions to ask, Table 3 shows a matrix of the Building Tasks coupled with Tools of Inquiry adapted from Koole (2011) as well as a path taken once a specific Building Task is selected.

Table based of Koole 2011 with Gees Building Tasks and Tools of Inquiry
Table based of Koole 2011 with Gees Building Tasks and Tools of Inquiry

An Ideal vs. Real Discourse Analysis and Validity

Gee suggests that a discourse analysis needs to “give some consideration, if only as background to the whole picture,” and according to Gee with seven Building Tasks and six Tools or Inquiry there are potentially 42 questions (and sub-questions) a researcher could use while analyzing discourse (p 121). Gee cautions that “asking and answering these 42 questions about any one piece of data would lead to a very long analysis indeed,” and clarifies that “for the most part a real discourse analysis deals only with some of the questions,” (p 122).   According to Gee “validity is not constituted by arguing that a discourse analysis ‘reflects reality’ in any simple way,” rather a discourse is “an interpretation of an interpretation,” (p 122). However Gee points out that analysis is not subjective in that it has more or less validity dependent on the following characteristics (p 122):

  • Convergence is when the “more the answers to the 42 questions converge in the way they support the analysis…the more the analysis offers compatible and convincing answers to many or all of them.”
  • Agreement “answers to the 42 questions are more convincing the more ‘native speakers’ of the social language in the data and ‘members’ of the Discourses implicated in the data agree that the analysis reflects how such social languages can function in such actual settings.”
  • Coverage “the analysis is more valid the more the analysis can be applied to related sorts of data. This includes being able to relate to what has come before and after the situation being analyzed and being able to predict the sorts of things that might happen in related sorts of situations.”
  • Linguistic Details “the analysis is more valid the more it is tightly tied to the details of linguistic structure… part of what makes a discourse analysis valid is it is linked to the grammatical devices that manifestly can and do serve these functions, according to the ‘native speakers’ of the social languages involved. ” (p 124).

A discourse analysis argues that certain data supports a given theme or point (hypotheses). Gee also points out that discourse analysis should come from multiple building tasks and not just one and that a number of linguistic details need to support the hypothesis (p 124). Gee explains that analysts should use only those questions that support the themes they are finding in the data and that your hypotheses should be based on the themes (p 126). Gee is a pains to point out that there is no one “lock step way” do discourse analysis but there are several components that are necessary:

1)   Analyze the language by putting it into its smallest meaning units. For Gee these include lines, stanzas, and macrolines. A line constitutes a “clause” in the dialogue while a stanza consists of several “lines on a topic, theme, or image. (p. 137). Macrolines are considered “what counts as a sentence in speech,” (p 142). For this research only macrolines are shown.

2)   Once the dialogue has been divided into lines and stanzas, macroline information (sentences) should be grouped into the larger macrostructure that is larger information for example a “story about my summer vacation, an argument for higher taxes etc,” (p. 138).

3)   After determining these larger macrostructural divisions, the analysts should ask the appropriate questions based on the Building Task that seem to support the theme or hypothesis, followed by the appropriate Tools of Inquiry.

4)   Write up the analysis based on the information they have available.

5)    Look for convergence, agreement, coverage, and linguistic details while they build the “validity” of the analysis.