An Alternative Framework for Creating Joint Cognitive Systems

Posted by John Flach, PhD on February 19, 2020
An Alternative Framework for Creating Joint Cognitive Systems

When working with our clients, we take a holistic view of experience to create human-machine systems that work together to achieve the goals of an organization and its users.

Table of Contents

At Mile 2, we do more than build software solutions—we design comprehensive user experiences that help our customers solve complex problems. We accomplish this by focusing on all of the factors that impact experience, exploring the cognitive work involved when connecting people, technology, and work.

Meaning Processing

Mile 2 senior cognitive systems engineer (CSE) John Flach shares his thoughts on these topics and the nature of experience in a new book titled “A Meaning Processing Approach to Cognition: What Matters?” Written in collaboration with industrial design engineer Fred Voorhorst, this book offers some novel ideas about the nature of human experiences and how those experiences might be shaped through interactions with technologies. Flach and Voorhorst explore the difference between “meaning processing” and “information processing.” The key inquiry is whether meaning is constructed in the head (purely mental), as suggested by an information processing view of mind. Or is meaning grounded in the world, i.e., the mind doesn’t invent meaning but rather it discovers the meaningful aspects of the world (the pragmatic values or affordances).

An Alternative Framework

In this vein, the authors also challenge conventional assumptions about mind and matter and suggest an alternative framework for considering the emergent functional properties of human experiences. These properties include:

  • Satisfying – to consider values and intentions relative to the actual consequences of our actions.
  • Affording – to consider the opportunities and constraints that shape the field of possibilities for action.
  • Specifying – to consider the information feedback that allows people to choose actions that lead to satisfying outcomes.

Each of these properties is a joint function of mind and matter. The interactions of these functions can be visualized as essential components of either a triadic semiotic system or of an adaptive control system. This is illustrated in the following diagram.

The diagram is a framework for both cognitive scientists and UX designers to explore the dynamics of joint cognitive systems, and it aligns with Mile 2’s efforts to build solutions that allow people to optimally use technology to achieve their goals. We take a holistic view of the cognitive work and create human-machine systems that work together to achieve the goals of an organization and its users.


“A Meaning Processing Approach to Cognition: What Matters?” is unique in its guidance and has received praise for this and its key ideas.

“This is no ordinary book. But this is the way in which all books should be written. To challenge, tease, cajole and humor the reader into thinking about what they already know and experience in a new way. If you read this book be prepared to change the way you think about human factors and cognitive systems engineering.”

Neville Stanton

Solving Complex Problems in Healthcare

Mile 2 applies this alternative framework based on the “meaning processing” approach to transform the way people use software, as illustrated by our Cardiac Consultant app. John Flach served as the principal CSE on Cardiac Consultant, which was developed in collaboration with Asymmetrik. Cardiac Consultant helps doctors evaluate a patient’s heart health (including risk for heart disease and stroke), examine treatment options, and share information with patients in an easy-to-understand display. The app integrates a complex array of clinical data to help physicians make an assessment of cardiovascular health and determine whether any specific treatments are required.

Through an intuitive and interactive interface, Cardiac Consultant displays the risk data, assessment models, and treatment options in a manner that allows physicians to explore how different treatment scenarios (like reducing cholesterol or quitting smoking) impact the patient’s health. This enhances a physician’s ability to explore hypotheses, evaluate treatment options, and develop recommended courses of action. Cardiac Consultant provides impactful visualizations designed to clearly inform patients about factors contributing to health risks and explain the impacts of differing treatment options.

We partner with all of our clients to develop a deep understanding of their work, and we apply a unique, multidisciplinary approach to designing software solutions. To learn more about the meaning processing approach, check out Flach and Voorhorst’s book which is available from Routledge.

Connect With Us

Organizations interested in software that supports “meaning processing” can reach out to Mile 2 to start a conversation about how we can partner with you to help satisfy your performance goals.

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