Understanding the Gulf of Evaluation and Execution

Are you familiar with the Gulf of Evaluation and Execution? It is an element of Cognitive Engineering which was proposed by Donald Norman in 1986, in an attempt to leverage knowledge from cognitive psychology, cognitive science and human factors to understand human cognition, and the capacity and limitations of cognitive engineering.

Source: medium.com

It was essentially created in order to use this information to develop pleasant, motivating and interactive systems, and make them easier to use.

Cognitive Engineering refers to the forms of assimilation used by individuals. Therefore, it concerns learning and practical intelligence, and involves different aspects, such as social and emotional aptitude, precision and non-cognitive abilities.

Cognitive Engineering assumes that the mind is structured through language. Considering the organizational scope, it is necessary to improve this language to obtain a better performance.

Therefore, when we talk about Cognitive Engineering, we refer to the structuring of language, or Neuro Linguistic Programming, better known as NLP.

NLP helps in the search for better communication. In this context, it is possible for leaders to achieve more efficient leadership, and for professionals in general to develop and explore their full potential for development, making NLP a useful science for business.

Source: online-coaching.coach

When we talk about people management, it is possible to use this approach in a model, which can be created using a diagram maker, to identify employee talents and skills, and thus define targeted strategies.

HR needs to keep in mind that each employee has different cognitive structures and, therefore, different environmental incentives. Within this variety of elements, correctly categorizing this information is essential in order to adopt effective measures aimed at the reality of each sector and profession.

The means for assessing and identifying cognitive structure depend on the elaboration of a strategy. The central point needs to be the optimization of the work in the management of people and the improvement of the allocation, attraction and retention of employees.

The relationship between user and system

Cognitive Engineering is centered on the relationship between the user and the system, and on user interaction with a conceived system, not focusing on the system designer or the system design process.

It focuses on the psychological processes of the users and the phenomena involved during their interaction with the system. In order to understand how users interact with system interfaces, Donald Norman created the Theory of Action.

According to this theory, the interaction between user and system is carried out in an action cycle that involves seven steps, and two targets to be achieved. Norman defines these two targets as “gulfs” to be crossed.

Source: cs4760.csl.mtu.edu

One is the Gulf of Execution, which involves all the user’s mental effort to plan their action in face of the commands and functions perceived in the system.

The other is the Gulf of Evaluation, which involves the moment when the user puts the planning of his action into practice, executing actions in the system, and the moment when the user, through the system’s outputs, evaluates whether their established objectives in action planning have been achieved.

Two of the many challenges which people must overcome to successfully interact with technology are:

  • Evaluation: understanding the state of the system;
  • Execution: taking action to accomplish a specific goal.

Hence why these processes are described as the “Gulf of Evaluation” and the “Gulf of Execution” – because without effective design elements to support users, they can turn into insurmountable barriers between these users and their goals.

To cross the “gulfs” as defined by Norman, the user must perform a sequence of steps within each of them. In the Gulf of Execution, the cycle begins with the user’s task, the goal for which the user wants to interact with the system.

Having defined the objective, the intention stage begins, in which the user elaborates a strategy to reach the objective, considering the current state of the system and the state to be achieved.

Having defined the intention, the next step involves specifying the action. Considering the commands and functions offered by the system, the user elaborates a series of steps and interactive actions with the system controls to achieve the objective or perform the task in question.

Source: nngroup.com

So far, the user has performed only mental activities, however, in the next execution step, the user will put all the mental effort into physical action, putting the planning into practice and interacting with the system. From this moment on, the Gulf of Execution is crossed and the Gulf of Evaluation begins.

The Gulf of Evaluation begins with the user’s perception after the system has processed their action. The user expects a change in the state of the system, caused by the inputs of their action.

Having perceived this change of state, the next step is the interpretation of the new state of the system by the user. Having interpreted the new state, the last step begins, in which the user evaluates the intended objective and the response of the system.

Difficulties with evaluation and execution still occur in today’s interfaces. Understanding these gulfs and incorporating them into UX design is important for two reasons.

The first is that evaluation and execution challenges transcend interaction styles and device types. People will still have to handle these gulfs, and this framework is flexible enough to be applied effectively to new design contexts.

Secondly, when it comes to solving design problems, the scale of breaking the evaluation and execution into specific subtasks shows in detail why designs fail, by taking a user-centric perspective.

As we have seen, Cognitive Engineering focuses on the user as they deal with a system designed according to the designer’s mental model, and the designer’s vision of the best solution for the users’ needs.

However, each user creates their own mental model when interacting with the system and its commands and functions, independent of the Gulf of Evaluation and Execution. In this sense, the designer’s mental model is different from each user’s model, so it is up to the designer to create a model which is closer to the user’s expectations.