Analysis of Cognitive Work

A comprehensive research design that enables understanding of information behavior, activities, and motives of actors in complex environments in a specific context.


Analysis of Cognitive Work (ACW) is a method used to understand how people think and make decisions in complex work environments. It involves studying cognitive processes such as perception, decision-making, problem-solving, and communication. By analyzing these aspects, ACW provides insights into how tasks are performed, where errors might occur, and how systems can be designed to support human cognition. It's particularly valuable in fields like healthcare, aviation, and emergency response, where understanding human cognition can enhance safety and efficiency.

Suitable for

  • Comprehensive analysis of human-information interactions
  • Evaluation and improvement of information system designs
  • Understanding motives and decision-making processes of actors


Task Analysis

A detailed breakdown of each task performed by the user, including goals, subtasks, decision points, and actions.

Cognitive Framework

A visual representation of the mental processes, knowledge, and decision-making involved in performing tasks within the system. This may include flowcharts, diagrams, and other visual aids.

User Profiles

A characterization of the target users, including demographics, educational background, experience, and cognitive abilities, to better understand their needs and limitations.

Cognitive Load Analysis

An evaluation of the cognitive demands placed on users by the system, identifying areas of high and low cognitive load and potential issues with information processing and decision-making.

Attention and Memory Analysis

An examination of the components of the system that require attention or memory from users, and recommendations for optimizing these elements to reduce cognitive strain.

Error Analysis

A systematic review of user errors, which can help identify potential causes, patterns, and possible solutions or mitigations for error reduction within the system.

Cognitive Walkthrough

An assessment of the system's usability and learnability through a series of scenarios, focusing on the cognitive processes and decision-making of users.

User Interviews

Insights from users collected through interviews, providing qualitative data about their cognitive experiences, challenges, and preferences when interacting with the system.

Design Recommendations

Suggestions for improving the system's usability, cognitive performance, and learnability, based on the findings and conclusions of the cognitive work analysis.

Report and Documentation

A comprehensive document describing the analysis process, findings, user profiles, and recommendations, along with visual aids and supporting data for presentation to stakeholders and team members.



Define Research Goals

Before starting the analysis, outline and prioritize the research objectives. Determine the scope of work, including the specific cognitive aspects you want to investigate, such as decision-making, memory, attention, or problem-solving.


Select Cognitive Tasks

Identify and select the cognitive tasks to be analyzed, ensuring they are relevant to your research goals. These tasks should involve significant cognitive processes and have a considerable impact on the overall user experience.


Determine Data Collection Methods

Choose appropriate data collection methods to obtain rich and valuable insights into the users' cognitive processes. Some common methods include interviews, observations, think-aloud protocols, and eye-tracking studies.


Gather Data

Conduct the chosen data collection methods with your target users. Ensure that the participants are representative of your user base and that the data collection process is structured and organized to avoid biases or errors.


Develop Cognitive Models

Analyze the collected data and translate the findings into cognitive models. These models can include mental models, information processing models, or decision-making models, and they should provide an understanding of the users' cognitive processes during task performance.


Identify Cognitive Issues

Examine the cognitive models to identify any issues or limitations that may be impacting the users' task performance. These issues could be attributed to a lack of knowledge, incorrect mental representations, or inefficient cognitive strategies.


Generate Design Recommendations

Based on the identified cognitive issues, propose design recommendations that target the specific cognitive needs of the users. These recommendations should aim to enhance cognitive efficiency, reduce user errors, and improve overall performance.


Validate Design Recommendations

Implement the proposed design changes and validate their effectiveness through additional user testing and data collection. The validation process should be iterative, ensuring that modifications align with users' cognitive processes and improve overall usability.


Document Findings

Create a detailed report to document the cognitive analysis findings, cognitive models, identified issues, and design recommendations. Share this information with relevant stakeholders to support evidence-based decision-making and further design development.

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