A cognitive dimensions analysis of interaction design for algorithmic composition software

Matthew Francis Bellingham, Simon Holland, Paul Mulholland

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


This paper presents an analysis of the user interfaces of a range of algorithmic music composition software using the Cognitive Dimensions of Notations as the main analysis tool. Findings include the following: much of the reviewed software exhibits a low viscosity and requires significant user knowledge. The use of metaphor (staff notation, music production hardware) introduces multiple levels of abstraction which the user has to understand in order to use effectively: some instances of close mapping reduce abstraction but require the user to do more work. Significant premature commitment is not conducive to music composition, and there are clear opportunities for the greater provisionality that a piece of structurally-aware music software could provide. Visibility and juxtaposability are frequently compromised by complex design. Patching software reduces the hard mental operations required of the user by making the signal flow clear, although graphical complexity can have a negative impact on role-expressiveness. Complexity leads to error-proneness in several instances, although there are some tools (such as error-checking and auto-completion) which seek to ameliorate the main problems.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of Psychology of Programming Interest Group Annual Conference 2014
EditorsBenedict du Boulay, Judith Good
PublisherPsychology of Programming Interest Group
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jun 2014
EventPPIG 2014: 25th Annual Workshop - Brighton, United Kingdom
Duration: 25 Jun 201427 Jun 2014


WorkshopPPIG 2014: 25th Annual Workshop
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • POP-I.C. end-user applications
  • POP-II.B. design
  • POP-III.C. Cognitive Dimensions
  • POP-IV.B. user interfaces
  • POP-V.A. theories of design
  • POP-VI.F. exploratory

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