Human Computer Interaction (HCI), the study of the interactions between computers and users, relies heavily on supporting knowledge and practices from both the human and machine sides of the spectrum. Therefore, HCI draws from an enormous and constantly evolving world of information in an attempt to find a way to successfully integrate humans and computers through user interfaces that take each side’s specific needs and capacities into consideration. One of the major influences on HCI is the Information Processing Model. In this article we will briefly overview what the Information Processing Model is and more importantly, how it facilitates and contributes to HCI.
What is the Information Processing Model?
The Information Processing Model derives from the Information Processing Theory, an approach to the study of cognitive development in relation to HCI. Information Processing theorists maintain that the human mind functions like a computer in that it processes information by applying logical rules and strategies. Consequently, the human mind has information processing limitations, much like a computer has information processing limitations. Information Processing theorists believe that optimal interfacing between humans and computers can be achieved when designers understand their similar methods of understanding and acting on information.
The Information Processing Model
The Information Processing Model (IPM) views human memory from a computer model perspective. According to the IPM, processing involves the following three activities in order for the human mind to take in information and perform operations on or change its form and content:
1. Encoding: Gathering and representing information.
2. Storage: Keeping the information archived in the memory.
3. Retrieval: obtaining the information when needed.
All three of the abovementioned activities require a guiding force to control how and when information will flow through the model. This guiding force is called the Control Process.
Creating an Information Processing Model is all about understanding the human mind’s memory and how it uses its memory. One common model that is used as an IPM places emphasis on the following types of human memory processes:
• Sensory Memory: Environmental stimuli (sights, sounds, smells) that affect the way we react to and remember a repeated process
• Short-Term Memory: Short-term memory is limited in the amount of information it can hold at any given time. It must be constantly repeated and reactivated, thus it holds the memory that it “currently” activated. It is the memory of the present moment.
• Long-Term Memory: Long-term memory holds information that has been well-learned and repeatedly practiced and “activated”. It is the memory that interface designers strive to build in users in relation to their products, buttressed in positive and optimal user experience
Thus, the IPM conveys how a users memory works, specifically how it processes and stores information permanently and temporarily. In the next section we will take a look at why this is important for HCI.
The Information Processing Model and user interface design
IPMs can be enormously helpful to HCI and, by extension, user interface design. HCI focuses on the cognitive aspect of how humans interact with their computers, and typically the avenue through which humans interact with a computer are (mostly graphical) user interfaces. Consequently, user interactions with a user interface design are largely a cognitive process in which memory plays a critical role. It is important to understand a user’s memory because it directly influences what tasks they can learn and perform with ease and success which will in turn ensure that the user interface remains popular and usable. Users also have limitations and their memory influences limitations—it is important for user interface designers to create user interface designs that do not overcrowd a user’s memory. IPMs can help designers discern what information is important for temporary storage and what information is important for permanent storage relative to a particular user interface design. This will facilitate their ability to better design from a UX vantage point.
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