Configural and Pictorial Displays

Kevin B. Bennett and John M. Flach

in The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Engineering

Published in print February 2013 | ISBN: 9780199757183
Published online May 2013 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Configural and Pictorial Displays


A framework for ecological display design is presented from the cognitive systems engineering perspective. This triadic approach views the interface as a medium that stands between the domain (situations) and the human (awareness); effective displays “close the loop” of this dynamical system, thereby supporting abductive learning and reasoning processes. All three of these system components (domain, interface, agent) and the interactions between them are incorporated into a single framework for display design. Analogical representations (i.e., configural displays) will typically provide good solutions for law-driven domains (e.g., process control); the visual properties (i.e., emergent features) should reflect the constraints of the underlying work domain. Metaphorical representations (i.e., pictorial displays) will typically provide the best options for intent-driven domains (e.g., mobile phones); the visual properties (icons) should leverage existing knowledge and support the processes of assimilation and accommodation. The role of CSE work domain analysis tools in obtaining the information needed to implement these alternative designs is described.

Keywords: cognitive systems engineering; ecological interface design; configural displays; object displays; pictorial displays; spatial metaphors; icons

Article.  9533 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Psychology

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