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The form of distributed cognition developed by Hutchins in the early 1990s. It is distinguished from other uses of the term distributed cognition by its explicitly computational perspective on goal-based activity systems.

descriptive model

A model that describes how a system or person behaves and that provides a framework or context for thinking about or describing a problem or situation. Usually based on data gained through empirical observation, it is often little more than a verbal or graphic articulation of categories or identifiable features in an interface.


Encompasses activities and actions directed at producing new artifacts. Design work is collective and multidisciplinary. It often includes professional designers, technologists, and future users of the artifacts.

design rationale

Arguments for why (or why not) a feature or set of features should be incorporated into a design.

direct manipulation

a user interface style in which system objects are represented visually and can be manipulated in ways analogous to how objects are manipulated in the real world (e.g., pointing, grabbing, dragging)

direct perception

The theory of James J. Gibson that claims that the visual environment is perceived “directly,” as opposed to being indirectly inferred from sense data.


ecological interface design

An approach to interface design that uses Rasmussen’s abstraction hierarchy and skills-rules-knowledge framework to specify interfaces that support adaptive human operator behavior in the face of events or situations that systems designers did not anticipate.


A computational cognitive architecture introduced by Kieras in the late 1990s. EPIC is known for computationally implementing perceptual and motor processes. More information can be found in Kieras & Meyer, 1997; Meyer & Kieras, 1997a, 1997b.


Originating in the anthropology of Bronislaw Malinowski, this has come to mean the study of cultural and societal matters from inside their operations. It is associated with fieldwork, which emphasizes the importance of participatory methods for collecting data about social phenomena.


Founded by Harold Garfinkel, this is an alternate sociology that eschews the predominantly theoretical caste of sociology in favor of studies of the way in which social order is attested to, constituted, and used within the practical doings of societal members. Ethnomethodological studies of work have focused on the situated practices, methods, and interactions through which members order their work.

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