Knowledge in the Head and in the World
Environment, Technology, and Society
Exercise: Knowledge in and out of my head
You have read Chapter 3 of The Design of Everyday Things and
learned a bit about how knowledge can take different forms, both in
a user's mind and in the world itself.
- To understand how different kinds of knowledge can affect the usability
of a device -- and how we can design things better.
Work in teams of three or four people based on the number in the upper
right-hand corner of this page.
Pick some computer program that everyone in your team has used, such as
an e-mail program, a web browser, or Microsoft Word. Base your answers
to the following tasks on your collective experience using the program.
- Come up with two or more examples for each kind of "knowledge in the
head" that the program requires:
- arbitrary knowledge
- knowledge of meaningful relationships
- knowledge understood by explanation
- Come up with two or more examples for each kind of "knowledge in the
world" that the program offers or requires:
- natural mappings
- natural or cultural constraints
- Choose one of your answers from the previous two tasks in which the user
can have difficulty using the program correctly. Offer an improvement
to the program by changing the kind of memory required. For example,
you might replace some arbitrary knowledge in the head with a natural
mapping, or a reminding with some knowledge understood by explanation.
As always, if you don't feel like you understand an idea from Norman's
yet, or if my instructions are unclear, this is a good time to discuss
the idea and ask questions!
At the End
- Your group submits a written report of your results from the three tasks.
As always, your report should summarize any discussion that ensued and
should answer any questions directly asked.
- Each group will present some of its conclusions, anbd participate in wild
Summary from Exercise
Examples from my experience...
- arbitrary knowledge -- short-cut keys
- knowledge of meaningful relationships -- page: doc :: printing : ...
- knowledge understood by explanation -- Far Side example; save to disk
- reminding -- "send me some e-mail..."
- natural mappings -- icons
- natural or cultural constraints -- turning a steering wheel
(clockwise vs counterclockwise);
widows and orphans? margins?
More complex devices usually give more, and more interesting, answers
to this exercise. Simpler devices, including most everyday devices,
are created to require little in the way of explicit knowledge to
operate them. Simple programs can be like that, too.
Do you believe the "labels" principle (Page 78)? I apply it to
CS students writing comments in programs...
I thought the motorcycle turn signal was cool. Find a mapping that
fits (in this case, the way the handlebars work) and suddenly the
problem goes away. Do you think that is what the designers intended?
- Today in class we talked about knowledge and its different forms.
In order to complete some sort of task we need to have a certain
amount of knowledge. That knowledge will tell us how to accomplish
a particular task. First we talked about the "knowledge in the head".
Arbitrary knowledge represents things that wouldn't make any sense
outside of the task context. For example, if we are working with "MS
Word" and we need to copy and paste something, we can use the "CTRL+C"
and "CTRL+V" shortcuts.
Knowledge of meaningful relationship refers to how we assign
relationship between symbols. It can be very much affected by
culture. One of the examples that [the instructor] gave in class
was the octagon-shaped "STOP" button on the "Internet Explorer's"
tool bar. It will not necessarily mean "STOP" for people from other
cultures, but it most likely will for those living in USA.
Knowledge understood by explanation means that we all have some
knowledge/ideas in mind but we sometimes require additional
explanation about how to actually do something. [The instructor] gave
an example of how non-computer users may not realize that they have
to save their information because they don't have to save anything
when they are just writing it in their notes. After you walk them
through the process of why it needs to be saved and how, then it
becomes fairly easy for them to do it and they understand it well.
Then we talked about "knowledge in the world"
Reminding: An example of reminding can be the "Caps lock" sign on
my home computer. My keyboard doesn't have a "Caps Lock" light that
would tell me if the CAPS is on or off. But whenever I am trying to
type in a password a little window will come up on my screen and tell
me that my CAPS is on.
Natural Mapping: One of the groups in class gave an example of
mapping. They said that if one needs to get to MS Word, they can go
START->PROGRAM FILES->MS WORD. Also it was suggested that
Icons can be great examples of mapping.
Natural and Cultural Constrains: We usually assume that we have
default orientation in culture. But in some countries people read
from right to left, or drive on the other side of the road. This
suggests that every knowledge can be affected by cultural constrains.
- Today in class our group activities corresponded with Chapter 3 in
Norman's book. We were asked to use a computer program that everyone
had experience. We were then asked to come up with two examples of
knowledge in the head for each of the following categories: arbitrary
knowledge, knowledge of meaningful relationships, and knowledge
understood by explaination. We were also asked to come up with two
examples of knowledge in the world for each of the following
categories: reminding, natural mappings, and natural or cultural
constraints. We were then asked to use one of our answers for the
above, and make it easier for the user by switching the form of
knowledge. Many of the groups used programs such as MS Word and the
UNI email. Most of the improvements in the products that the groups
discussed was replacing the current type of knowledge used to using
natural mapping. There seemed to be a consensus that naturall mapping
tended to be the form that was thought to be the easiest to
- Knowledge in the head -- groups used Microsoft Word and UNI e-mail.
Chapter 3 talks about knowledge and gets away from devices
totally. Tasks that carry out and you have help to do it.
Arbitrary Knowledge has good and bad sides, but more arbitrary
knowledge the better. [Actually, just the opposite!! -- EW]
Meaningful Relationship: Relationships within the program, or
with something outside the program. Knowledge by explanation:
Example: learn thing by explanation ... Cartoon old "Far Side",
Geeky cave man standing in fire wiht meat on a stick, pain free
cooking. Everything the other cavemen needed was there in their
heads but they needed to have the idea demonstrated or explained
to them before they could put it all together. Moral of story:
sometimes you need things explained to you to get something.
Natural mapping: (Microsoft Word) Examples: Icons, Start Menu
to Program to "Word". Tool Bars too. Natural/cultural constrants:
turning the steering wheel.
- The sessson that we work on today wsa called "knowledge in the Head
and in the World. The first part of the class we worked in groups and
worked through the handout. I learned what arbitrary knowlege was,
and we discussed what it was in class. It is the knowledge you need
to do something. We talked about how shortcuts are arbitraty and how
they can have a good and bad side to them. After the idividual groups
finised, the classs rejoined for a class discussion. My
group volunteered for the meaningful relationship portion of the
worksheet. We decided that a meaningful relationship for Explorer
would be the back/forward buttons.
This is arbitrary because it is hard to explain the button to a
first time user. We discussed that for first time user a story helps
them fiqure things out. Other people in the class discuss different
parts of the worksheet. One group said that icons are great natural
maps because they are relationships outside the program. The last
thing that was discussed was cultural constraints. Examples of which
are the stop sign that is used on the Explorer program. Many other
cutures would have no knowledge of the octagon [meaning 'stop', at
least]. After the discussion the class was ended.
Eugene Wallingford ====
October 21, 2003