Cognitive artifact

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  • “Cognitive artifacts may be defined as "those artificial devices that maintain, display, or operate upon information in order to serve a representational function and that affect human cognitive performance." (Norman 1991, p.17) Cognitive artifacts are in other words man-made things that seem to aid or enhance our cognitive abilities, and some examples are calendars, to-do lists, computers, or simply tying a string around your finger as a reminder.” (Soegaard)
  • Cognitive artifacts are an important part of a task environment, i.e. the environment of action.

The artifact as Interface

“An artifact can be though of as a meeting point - an "interface" in today's terms - between an "inner" environment, the substance and organization of the artifact itself, and an "outer" environment, the surroundings in which it operates. If the inner envionment is appropriate to the outer environmnet, or vice versa, the artifact will serve its intended purpose.” (Simon, 1981:9).

“... the first advantage of dividing outer from inner envionment in studying an adpative or artificial system is that we can often prdict behavior from knowledge of the systme's golas and its outer enviornment, with only minimal assumptions about the inner environment”. (Simon, 1981:11). In more pratical terms this means that we can often find artifacts that have very different inner workings but that provide similar functions and accomplish similar goals. E.g. one may claim that a wiki can do similar things than a CMS.

“Description of an artifice in terms of its organization and functioning - its inteface between inner and outer enviornments - is a major objective of invention and desgin activity.” (Simon, 1981:13).


  • Kirsh, D. (1999): Distributed Cognition, Coordination and Environment Design, In Proceedings of the European Cognitive Science Society. HTML
  • Hutchins, E. (1995). Cognition in the Wild. Cambridge, MA: MITPress.
  • Norman, Donald A. (1991): Cognitive artifacts. In: Carroll, John M. (Eds.) "Designing Interaction: Psychology at the Human-Computer Interface". Cambridge University Press
  • Simon, Herbert A. (1981): The Sciences of the Artificial,(2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA, MIT Press
  • Simon, Herbert A. (1996): The Sciences of the Artificial,(third ed.). Cambridge, MA, MIT Press
  • Soegard, Mats (20003), Cognitive Artifacts, encyclopedia, HTML