University of Maryland

TUTORIAL: The Roles of Theory and Experiment in HCI

TUTORIAL: The Roles of Theory and Experiment in HCI: Designing Interfaces with Cognition in Mind

Thursday, May 26, 2016
A workshop of the
33rd Human-Computer Interaction Lab Symposium
University of Maryland


This tutorial will give you an understanding of research at the intersection of cognitive science and HCI. The central theme of the tutorial is designing interfaces with cognition in mind. You will learn how scientific experiments can serve a dual role, contributing both practical and theoretical results. In the top down approach we begin with a new design, then the results of experiments contribute new theory that explains the results in terms of human cognitive processes. You will also learn how theories of human cognition can serve as the starting point for designing interfaces from the ground up.


Tim Clausner is a cognitive scientist at HCIL
Contact: clausner -at-

Abstract and Topics

Human computer interaction research aims to enhance information displays, improve how people interact with physical devices, and offer new ways of interacting with digital information. It’s all about meaning. The purpose of a display is for people to comprehend its meaning, for a visualization to make sense, for a manual gesture to yield an expected outcome. Achieving enhanced interfaces is a research problem situated in the intersection of computer science, psychology, linguistics, and physics (at least). This tutorial will explore the role of theory and experiment as they apply to problems of interface design, performance measurement, and interpretation of results. Carefully designed experiments can tell us more than whether one interface is better than another. Experiments can tell us about perceptual, cognitive, and neural processes which enable people to make sense of interfaces. We will consider two design approaches. Top down approaches begin with an extant design and aim to enhance it. Ground up approaches aim to design an interface from first principles. These approaches can yield practical improvements in interface design and performance, as well as yield contributions to theory.

Preview of Topics

Tangible User Interfaces
Air Traffic Displays
Embodied Cognition
Visional Cognition
Gesture and Action
Design of Experiments
Semantics in Language
Meaning in vision and action

If there is interest we can discuss additional topics specific to your own projects.

Schedule (1 – 5 pm)

1 pm – 3 pm  Top down approaches (Design then Experiment)

3 pm – 3:20 pm  Coffee Break

3:20 pm – 5 pm  Ground up approaches (Experiment then Design),
General Discussion


NFS grant no. IIS-1218160 to M. Maher, T. Clausner, and A. Druin