Cognition and Usability: Applying Principles from Cognitive Science to User Experience Design


Kirk St.Amant
Louisiana Tech University and University of Limerick


Online Courses

Cognition and Usability: Applying Principles from Cognitive Science to User Experience Design

1-22 May 2018 (Tuesdays) | Asynchronous

No item is inherently useful.  Rather, the use – and the usability – of materials are dictated by the expectations and perceptions of the individuals who use them to achieve a particular objective in a given context.  The cognitive mechanism individuals use to identify and assess items, thus, greatly dictate what constitutes a “usable” design.  The better one can understand the cognitive factors affecting the perceptions and expectations, the more effectively they can understand user needs and create materials that address them.  For technical communicators, understanding and addressing such cognitive factors is of particular importance as a wider range of audiences is using a growing range of media to access and interact with information.  This course will focus on introducing technical communicators to foundational cognitive concepts that affect how humans perceive the world around them and identify, assess, and use materials in different ways to achieve different objectives.  In so doing, the course will examine how to apply an understanding of these concepts to better understand the needs and expectations of different audiences and create products designed to meet them.

This four-week course introduces attendees to how cognitive factors affect the ways individuals perceive and use items in the world around them.  By examining the cognitive models humans use to organize and understand their world, the course will examine different methods for using models to guide usability testing and product design practices.  Through this approach, participants will gain a foundational understanding of how different cognitive models affect perceptions of usability, and learn approaches for applying these models to guide research, testing, and design practices related to usability and addressing user expectations.

By the end of this course, students will have a foundational understanding of how to:

  • Identify different cognitive factors that affect the ways in which individuals identify and use items in the world around them
  • Use different cognitive concepts to understand factors that can affect user expectations and usability relating to different items and their design
  • Employ various cognitive concepts to guide research practices that focus on understanding the needs and expectations different audiences have for certain kinds of communication products
  • Apply cognitive factors in different ways to guide the product design and development process as well as guide usability testing practices relating to that process

Kirk will also be presenting this topic at the 2018 Summit in Orlando, Florida from 20-23 May. Attendees will also be able to chat with Kirk on this subject matter as well as receive in-person feedback about their work.

Session Descriptions

This week will cover the following:

  • Connections between memory, cognition, and perception.
  • Models that help explain how the brain processes information.

This week will cover the following:

  • Processes individuals use to identify items in the world around them.
  • Mechanisms that guide how individuals evaluate the appropriateness and usability of items.

This week will cover the following:

  • Connections between the contexts in which persons use items and expectations of usability.
  • Constructs that affect how different individuals use items in a given context.

This week will cover the following:

  • Using cognitive concepts to guide audience research and usability testing practices.
  • Applying research results to design processes and practices.


Kirk St.Amant is a Professor and the Eunice C. Williamson Endowed Chair in Technical Communication at Louisiana Tech University (USA) and is also an Adjunct Professor of International Health and Medical Communication with the University of Limerick (Ireland).  Kirk has worked on international projects for companies such as Medtronic, VERITAS Software, the Braun Corporation, and Unisys, and for the non-profit Humanitarian Demining Information Center (HDIC) and the Consortium for the Enhancement of Ukrainian Management Education (CEUME). Kirk is a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication (STC), and he has taught online and on-site courses in culture and communication for a number of universities in the United States as well as universities in Belize, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, and Ukraine.  He currently serves on the editorial board for the STC journal Technical Communication, is the vice-chair of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)’s Special Interest Group on Design of Communication (SIGDOC), and he is a past president of the Council for Programs in Technical and Scientific Communication (CPTSC)

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