How does Human-Computer Interaction apply to SharePoint? Part 2

I realize that not everyone involved in Information Technology (IT) may understand what defines HCI, especially with very general references to the five basic dimensions. Therefore I will cover three principles essential in the practice of information architecture and design: cognitive principles, communication principles, and aesthetic principles.

Cognitive Principles

The connections and convergences between human perception, thinking, and learning; how we transmit knowledge, share concepts, and process information through language; and how structures and legibility affect the visualization of messaging. These theories, identified and tested by academics and professionals support the design decisions you make on a daily basis.

If you did not know there is an ISO 13407. This is the published ISO standard on the human-centered design model.

Created specifically for interactive products, the main points are as follows:

  • Specify the context of use
  • Specify the user and organizational requirements
  • Evaluate designs against project requirements

A popular question is “Who are Information Designers and What do they do?” Hopefully the quote below adds some clarity.

“Information [architects and] designers are very special people who must master all of the skills and talents of a designer; combine them with the rigor and problem-solving ability of a scientist or mathematician; and bring the curiosity, research skills, and doggedness of a scholar to their work.”

Terry Irwin from “Information Design: What is it and Who does it?” at

User-centered design is driven by research. Research during the development process provides valuable insight into the needs, behaviors, and expectations of the target audience. Focus groups, interviews, ethnographic and observational studies, and other tactics help the designer to crate the most effective communication piece.

Emphasis is placed on iteration and participation. Projects are developed through cycles of testing, analysis, and refinement. Multiple iterations often provoke questions and solutions previously unforeseen by the design team. Engaging a sample of actual end users to participate in the vetting process guides a project toward further refinement. The goal is to create artifacts that enhance the way people work, learn, and play – rather than forcing them to conform to new or unfamiliar skill sets and learning methods. Careful consideration of the user’s needs determines the appropriate content.

The study of Human Perception, Thinking, and Learning can provide the designer with crucial insight into the needs of the end user. Even an elementary understanding of cognitive science and educational theory can make a big difference in the way aesthetic decisions are made.

Educational studies professors, Rita and Kenneth Dunn, created the Dunn and Dunn Learning-Style Model back in the 1970s.

Dunn and Dunn Learning Styles

  • Visual – Introduction of new information through images [pictures, flow charts, diagrams]
  • Auditory/Verbal – Introduction of new information through written and spoken context
  • Kinesthetic/Tactile – Introduction of new information through doing [role-play and skits]

The Stage Theory Model, also known as the Atkison and Shiffrin Model, asserts that human memory develops in three specific stages: sensory input, short-term memory and long-term memory.

The model postulates that memories are developed through the three stages. First an individual notices sensory input (an image, a sound, etc.) That input is quickly moved to the short-term memory. With sufficient rehearsal or mental processing called a feedback loop it enters the long-term memory where it will be stored indefinitely for later retrieval.


What is chuncking? Harvard psychology professor in the 1950s, George Miller wanted to identify the limits of short-term memory in his paper “The Magical Number Seven Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information.”

First of all we should Design for Retention

  • Make aesthetic and communication decisions that target every stage of the memory process
  • Use contrasts and color to attract immediate notice
  • Create associations with familiar subjects to help the user store the information and provide parsed, accessible chucks of content for easy retrieval

Second, we should Make It Easy

  • Make complex information sets easier for your user to access, understand, and recall
  • Break complicated or lengthy content into smaller chucks, always remembering “7, +/-2” as your guide
  • Then utilize design continuity to link those sections into a broader message.

Difference Threshold as it pertains to sensory stimuli – anything from the brightness of a light to the volume of a sound to saltiness of food – are subject to modulation. We need to be aware of this when dealing with the weight and size of fonts used in visual communication projects

Weber’s Law of Just Noticeable Difference defines the minimum amount of change required in any type of sensory stimulus for an individual to take notice. The law postulates that the amount of change, once determined, remains a constant and can be predicted for future stimuli. When determining difference thresholds as any other quantitative study the more user are tested, the more accurate the results.

“…This doesn’t mean that those are the only font weights worth using, but rather that easily noticeable differentiation requires skipping a weight. The same can be applied to font size.”

The Gestalt Principles of Perception developed by Gestalt psychologists Kurt Koffa, Wolfgang Kohler, and Max Wertheimer applied this theory to visual perception. They believed that humans perceive compositions as a whole, rather than as a collection of individual forms. The following principles give support to many techniques designers use to manipulate forms and create hierarchy and meaning.

  • The Principle of Proximity
  • The Principle of Similarity
  • The Principle of Pragnany (The Figure Ground Relationship)
  • The Principle of Closure

Eyetracking – study of where our gaze falls

  • Fixation – when our eyes appear to pause in a certain position
  • Saccade – the movement between on fixation and the next fixation when the eye changes position
  • Scanpath – used to describe a series of fixations and saccades

Perception of Graphic Statistical Displays – William S. Cleveland’s Task Model that views the legibility of charts and graphs which excludes the marketing communication audience.

Wayfinding – MIT professor Kevin Lynch coined the term in his book, “The Image of the City,” MIT Press, 1960. The term describes how an individual orients themselves within a new environment, and the cognitive processes used to determine and follow a route, traversing from one point to the next.

I know this is a lot of information to take in about designing, but everything I have presented are the key communication principles that I will reference often when walking through the complete process of user interface and user experience design when working with SharePoint technology.

We have successfully covered most of the fundamental communication principles, next post I will cover the communication theory.

Communication Principles

  • AIDA – Alternative, Interest, Desire, Action
  • LATCH – Location, Alphabet, Time, Category, Hierarchy
  • Inverted Pyramid Writing Structure
  • Principle of Least Effort
  • Uncertainty Reduction Theory
  • Information Literacy Theory
  • Visual Literacy theory
  • Semiotics
  • Iconography [ISO 9186-2:2008]
  • Typography

I am a technologist with a strong background in software engineering. I have many interests. My current distractions are 70s-80s-90s music [it's a very eclectic collection], ontology, information architecture, mobile device technology, medical bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, and nanorobotics.

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