[Week 3] Bookclub: Knowledge in the Head and in the World



A belated week 3

We gave everyone some extra reading time to finish chapter two and start chapter three. I hope you’re all energised for the next discussion! Here are some questions to think on during your reading and your discussion with the rest of the group.


Don opens the chapter with a story about borrowing a car from a friend, who mentioned he’d need to put the car into reverse gear to be able to remove the key from the ignition—something he could never have figured out on his own. In another example, he discusses how people can generally use foreign coinage fairly accurately, based on the metal and relative size of the coins. These two examples demonstrate the difference between knowledge that exists in the head (we know because we’ve been told) and the knowledge that exists in the world (we can work it out based on experience), and how both of these are needed for daily functioning, although leaning more heavily on one may mean a tradeoff in the other.

Ask yourself:

  1. How do you feel about Don’s description of a memory burden?
  2. Should every stove look the same? Should design be uniform? Why? Why not?

Some questions to discuss with the rest of the group:

  1. As users and consumers we might often choose design aesthetics over function and simplicity of use. Why is this?
  2. What are some natural constraints that operate to help users to use the web environment?
  3. How can we use natural mapping to ease the memory load for our users in a web environment?


I loved this chapter. The first example about the car reminded me of a time a couple of years back when I travelled to San Francisco with my partner. He was determined to hire a Tesla to drive to Napa for the day. I figured it was a good compromise because it meant he was the designated driver. :wink:

We used Turo and when we showed up to the house there was no one home so we used the provided code to let ourselves into the garage. I waited on the street for Mal to back the car out. After a very long wait I went to see what was wrong. He didn’t know how to start it. Apparently you don’t need to turn Teslas on – you just put it in gear and start driving!

My fav quote this week is: Knowledge of the rules does not mean that they are followed. It speaks to my slightly rebellious personality. :wink:

I was fascinated to learn about alerting passwords. It’s such a great concept but not one I’ve heard of before. It reminds me of a safety rule that my parents instilled in us as kids. If we were ever in trouble and needed help we were to call them and use our first and middle names so that they would be alerted.

“…although it is interesting to observe memory wizards, it would be wrong to design systems that assumed this level of proficiency”

This interested me because it reminded me of the discussion in the previous chapter about engineers lacking empathy for users… It’s something that I come up against every day in my work. I use a platform that I’ve been working with since it was in Beta and it’s so hard to be empathetic to users when you’ve been working with something that long and know the product inside out.

Ego. I would rather have to climb a steep learning curve in the early days to have something (e.g. a stove) that I am proud of and that looks great in my house than have something that I don’t like just because it was easier to use when I first got it.


Somewhere here in the forums (and lord help me I wouldn’t know how to search for it either on UXMastery or online) someone posted a link to a blog written about toilet paper holders. The writer joked about how she wanted to rebel against the instructions on the holders to “use this side first”. She said she planned to make spit wads out of the toilet paper and throw them onto the ceiling. If anyone remembers where it was, that would be a great thing to link in here for our rebellious one. :smile:


The topic of this chapter is quite interesting and in my point of view it highlights the importance of contextual knowledge when designing an interface. Observation of users in their context using your interface is very powerful. You’ll identify so much situations where users try hard to access knowkedge in the world.

Why people use aestetics over function in systems. Probably because aestetical systems often seem simpler on first view . Beside of that I agree that there are potential other ego aspects responsible fur such decisions.


Sorry, got a bit late on this chapter.

This chapter talked about the importance of combining the knowledge in the head with the knowledge in the world. Then it discussed on the short term memory and long term memory. Memory is a key consideration when designing a good experience as you don’t want to create a memory load on your users.

One of the main memory related issues faced by users is remembering their passwords. Not only do users have to keep track of different passwords (As different applications would have different password conditions) they have to create new ones periodically for certain “very secure” applications. Its an impossible task and as mentioned in the chapter, people resort to writing down the password, which defeats the purpose. Password Mangers provide a solution to a certain extent, with “one password to rule them all”. Biometrics provide a better solution though, as you don’t have to remember anything.

Same here. Aesthetics was more important when I got my stove. But is it Ego? Isn’t Aesthetics part of the experience? I think that if aesthetics will contribute more positively to your experience over function, you would choose on aesthetics.

Favourite quote: " Technology doesn’t make us smarter. People don’t make technology smart. It is the combination of the two, the person and the artifact, that is smart.


Very fair points. I’m not sure. I suppose it comes down to whether you’d accept weaknesses that would usually bother you just because something looked good.


It’s taken me a while to get through this chapter.
There’s a lot to take on board.
My notes are a bit of a brain dump I’m afraid.

Precise behaviour needs a lack of fear.
Fake it till you can make it = just enough information to get by.
Maybe more information is worse than just enough.

What people know is not always true.
We need cues and reminders to remember HOW to do things.

New things can be easily confused with known things.
A cancel button positioned where you might expect a Continue button would produce an unexpected result.
We rely on consistency within the same thing, but also between things.

Not all red notebooks are my red notebook.
Consider future development - what will change over time, will the change cause confusion?

Public outrage does not allow for adjustment time.
Customers of a new website upset that it’s not the same as the old. The issues disappear quickly, but the immediate effect can be a horrible level of frustration and upset.
I’ve heard of clients saying customers have cried on the phone because the website had changed!

Constraints - screws and bolts was a good example.
You know what you have to do with them, even if it takes a few attempts to get it just right.

Names on forms - consider cultural conventions.

Don’t expect people to remember stuff - out of sight = out of mind.
I personally hate booking forms where it hides what I ordered and I worry I made a mistake and I will pay and it’s too late.
I like to double check as I go through the screens.
It’s nice to know I’ll be able to check all the details before I make the final submission of a form.

The most effective way of helping people remember is to make it unnecessary

Cultural perception of time, I found this fascinating.
Reminded me also of the choice of scroll direction on a mouse. One way just feels wrong!


Alrighty, I’m finally done with my surprise summer conference extravaganza and am excited to get back on track here. :slight_smile:

Chapter Summary and Insights

  • Knowledge is distributed in the head, in the world, and in the constraints of the world. Given this distribution, it’s not necessary for people to know everything about every potential user experience in order to do things. Just as people can share knowledge with significant others as a means of reducing personal memory load (transactive memory), so too must technology lift some of that burden. In short, the interaction between a user’s merely sufficient knowledge and the cues skillfully put in place by designers should ensure good performance.
  • Short-term memory (STM) can be taxed by design decisions that ignore its limited and fleeting capacity (e.g., such as by displaying messages that disappear from the screen before users have had time to process it). Rehearsal (or practice) of knowledge is essential for the formation of long-term memory (LTM) traces. However, knowledge can be erroneously encoded in STM (incorrect information is remembered instead of correct information), or it can be erroneously recalled from LTM (due to reconstructive processes that cause accurate memories to become less accurate).
  • Taken together, in practice this may mean that the design of onboarding processes must both reinforce accurate information/actions and prevent/constrain inaccurate information/actions so that memory is not encoded inaccurately. Similarly, users should receive refreshers and be regularly guided back to accurate information/actions to prevent decay and reconstructive processes.
  • Design features may be influenced by the significance of what users are trying to do. Keeping knowledge in the head may be sufficient when trying to remember personally significant events (e.g., getting married). However, for commonplace events (e.g., meetings), it is best to transfer some of the memory burden to the world (sticky notes, calendar reminders, etc.). The ideal reminder must contain a signal (indicator that there’s something that must be remembered) and a message (information on what the event to be remembered is).
  • Culture should be referenced when generating designs and anticipating what users’ natural mappings are. For example, when controlling the content presented on a screen, up may represent the future while down represents the past in one culture. In another culture, the future may be to the right while the past is to the left.

Favorite Quotes

“Technology does not make us smarter. People do not make technology smarter. It is the combination of the two, the person plus the artifact, that is smart.”

“With a good natural mapping, the relationship between [an action] and [an outcome] is completely contained in the world; the load on human memory is much reduced. With a bad mapping, however, a burden is placed upon memory, leading to more mental effort and a higher chance of error.”