Ecological Interface Design

There are very few theoretical frameworks in the cognitive engineering literature that explicitly aim to support worker adaptation. One exception is the ecological interface design (EID) framework proposed by Vicente and Rasmussen (1990, 1992). EID is based on Rasmussen's (1986) abstraction hierarchy and skills, rules, knowledge taxonomy of levels of cognitive control.

The EID framework takes its name from a school of psychology known as ecological psychology. This school of psychology was originally developed by two well known researchers, Egon Brunswik and James J. Gibson, who shared a number of metatheoretical commitments, including: adopting the human-environment system as the fundamental unit of analysis; examining the constraints that the environment imposes on behaviour; conducting experiments under representative conditions; and paying attention to the powerful, but often ignored, capabilities of perception and action. EID also shares these metatheoretical commitments, and therefore has strong ties to the work of both Brunswik and Gibson.

EID has now been applied to a number of diverse application domains, including: process control, aviation, computer network management, software engineering, medicine, command and control, and information retrieval. In addition to the extensive body of work conducted by CEL, approximately 90 papers motivated by the EID framework have been written by other scholars in Canada, US, Japan, France, England, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.

This research has had an impact on academe. The first conference paper on EID, written in 1988, was included in a book containing influential papers previously published in the Proceedings of the Human Factors Society Annual Meetings. Only 79 research papers were selected for this book from an eligible pool of over 3,500. The first journal article on EID, written in 1989, was recently listed by the editor of the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies as one of the most frequently cited and influential papers to appear in that journal's 30 year history.

Research on EID has also had an impact on industry. Both Honeywell and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited Research have used EID interfaces designed by CEL as examples of state of the art interface design for process control systems. Toshiba in Japan has adopted the EID framework and some EID displays created by CEL in the design of their prototype advanced control room for the next generation nuclear power plant. This technology transfer to industry, while limited, indicates that the EID framework is a promising candidate for interface design for complex systems.

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