Fall 2020 - IAT 201 D100

Human-Computer Interaction and Cognition (3)

Class Number: 7786

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:


  • Prerequisites:

    Completion of 21 units, including at least one lower division "W" course.



Introduces topics in human perception, cognition and embodied action as a foundation of design for human use. It explores the practical application of techniques for analyzing diverse interactive situations and designing effective user interfaces. Students will engage in the analysis and design of a simple user interface, gaining detailed knowledge and experience with the standard basic techniques for interface specification, prototyping and evaluation.


As the diversity of interfaces and uses of computing technology increase, interface design must take into account aspects of human experience that are not intuitive to designers. This includes reflection on the cognitive processes in design (i.e. “design thinking”) as well as the abilities and needs of the diverse individuals and communities that will use the technologies we create.

Our approach to human-computer interaction will focus on scientific evidence, user outcomes, and the design processes that support them. The course begins with new approaches to "design thinking" based on Donald Schön's Reflective Practitioner method, cognitive engineering approaches such as Herbert Simon’s Sciences of the Artificial, W. Brian Arthur's Nature of Technology, and Donald Norman's many books.

Cognitive abilities such as perceptual learning, embedded, embodied and enactive cognition, and interpersonal communication are part of modern interface design. The course continues with a focus on human information processing psychology as a scientific basis for interaction design. Using that perspective we will discuss human cognitive abilities such as perception, thinking, learning and remembering. We then introduce alternative perspectives from ecological perception and distributed cognition. Section activities ask learners to combine and contrast these different perspectives in the form of design actions that provide a scientific basis for design choices.

Throughout the course, learners are called upon to reflect upon their own personal approach to design, to learn how to make informed design decisions, and to discuss design decisions with colleagues. Our overall goal is to support learners to build a reflective interface design process, grounded in an understanding of human cognition, that can be used to design stand-alone applications and components of complex software ecosystems.


Learning Outcomes 

  • Consider reflective interface design practices that are grounded in cognitive science
      • Understand and explain psychological science perspectives on human perception and cognition:
        • Human Information Processing approaches to understanding human perceptual, cognitive and social capabilities.
        • Ecological approaches to understanding perception and action in the environment
      • Use these perspectives to evaluate designs with regard to support for human capabilities and context of use.
  • Understand new ecological, embodied, and distributed cognition approaches from the interdisciplinary field of cognitive science
    • Describe these approaches and understand how they differ.
    • Understand how these approaches can be used in design of technologies for distributed and extended cognition
  • Overall, begin to develop your own individual reflective design approach with an evolving personal "design reflection".



  • Reflective design paper (individual) 10%
  • Quizzes (individual) 30%
  • Active learning activities (individual, in sections) 60%


Marks are based entirely on individual performance (no group project). First quiz covers design methods and cognitive psychology, with an emphasis on cognitive neuroscience of perception and attention. The second quiz covers distributed cognition with an emphasis on how thinking can be shaped by interactive technology environments.



"Designing with the Mind in Mind:  Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Rules" (2014) by Jeff Johnson; 2nd Edition; Morgan Kaufmann
ISBN: 9780124079144

Online readings posted in CANVAS


"Unflattening" by Nick Sousanis (graphic novel)
ISBN: 9780674744431

Registrar Notes:


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Teaching at SFU in fall 2020 will be conducted primarily through remote methods. There will be in-person course components in a few exceptional cases where this is fundamental to the educational goals of the course. Such course components will be clearly identified at registration, as will course components that will be “live” (synchronous) vs. at your own pace (asynchronous). Enrollment acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes. To ensure you can access all course materials, we recommend you have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, and the internet. In some cases your instructor may use Zoom or other means requiring a camera and microphone to invigilate exams. If proctoring software will be used, this will be confirmed in the first week of class.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112).