Cognitive Artifacts: An Art-Science Engagement


‘Cognitive Artifacts’ is a theoretical framework that may allow a common evaluation of the impact of the products of science and art. Describes need for transformations of science that engage emotional, aesthetic, social and spiritual cognitive processes. Artist describes current work investigating ‘Social Architectures.’


Both Art and Science are engaged in the production of "Cognitive Artifacts," which are generally considered to be human-made objects that aid or enhance cognition. Don Norman, originator of the term, defines Cognitive Artifacts 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) Notebooks and calculators are common examples of artifacts that become incorporated into a cognitive process. Similarly, media artifacts, such as scientific journals or oil paintings, are incorporated into cognition, enhancing and extending it. The artifacts of Science, such as formalized text, theoretical or computational models and visual illustrations, appear to aid domain-specific rational thought processes. I argue that the artifacts of Art support emotional, aesthetic, social and spiritual cognitive processes.


My art practice focuses on creating representations and transformations of science that engage ‘pre-rational’ and intuitive elements of human cognition. The ongoing works presented here seek to explore the aesthetic form and dynamics of social movement within social architectures.

BioMyspace is an interactive animated visualization of the exchange of media and the structure of popularity within the largest online social network, This interactive visualization supports large-scale social research by enabling online ethnographers to visually identify social structures and observe the distribution of media. Artistically, B i oMyspace seeks to represent large-scale online social activity as a biological process, generating an abstracted portrayal of the human social "super-organism".

Transparent City is a prototype surveillance interface for visualizing the abstracted movement of all individuals within a city. This experimental computer interface makes legible the governmental tracking of mobile phones. The purpose of this interface is to raise awareness of current government capabilities and to explore the aesthetic form of humanity at a macro-level.

The Mood Room is an adaptive architectural space designed to reflect and affect the social and cognitive dynamics of its occupants. Using vocal analysis and computer vision techniques, the Mood Room modulates the mood of its own architecture to support (or suppress!) ongoing social interactions.

Comparative Graffiti Study, San Jose is an urban architectural intervention that enabled a controlled study of the production of graffiti across four neighborhoods in central San Jose. Four 8'x2' white columns were seeded with identical text, imagery, and black permanent markers to create a social affordance for graffiti. These were then deployed in four different neighborhoods for 24 hours on Friday, August 12, 2006, and exhibited at ISEA2006.


Derek Lomas is a scientist and artist pursuing his MFA at the University of California San Diego. He received his BA in Cognitive Science from Yale University (2003), where he studied the cognitive basis for empathy and music perception. He currently co-directs the Social Movement Laboratory ( under Natalie Jeremijenko at the California Institute of Telecommunications and Technology (Calit2).


Norman, Donald A. (1991): Cognitive Artifacts. In: Carroll, John M. (Eds.) "Designing Interaction: Psychology at the Human-Computer Interface". Cambridge