Graphical Displays: Implications for Divided Attention, Focused Attention, and Problem Solving

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When completing tasks in complex, dynamic domains observers must consider the relationships among many variables (e.g., integrated tasks) as well as the values of individual variables (e.g., focused tasks). A critical issue in display design is whether or not a single display format can achieve the dual design goals of supporting performance at both types of tasks. We consider this issue from a variety of perspectives. One relevant perspective is the basic research on attention and object perception, which concentrates on the interaction between visual features and processing capabilities. The principles of configurality are discussed, with the conclusion that they support the possibility of achieving the dual design goals. These considerations are necessary but not sufficient for effective display design. Graphic displays map information from a domain into visual features; the tasks to be completed are defined in terms of the domain, not in terms of the visual features alone. The implications of this subtle but extremely important difference are discussed. The laboratory research investigating alternative display formats is reviewed. Much like the attention literature, the results do not rule out the possibility that the dual design goals can be achieved.



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