Minimalism and cognitive science

The principles of minimalism, as developed by John Carroll in The Nurnberg Funnel and subsequent works, are based on solid principles of learning theory derived from cognitive science. Too often, we forget that our “users” are, in reality, learners.

Text by Ray Gallon


Minimalism and cognitive science

Minimalism has become a hot topic in technical communication. The term is so prevalent in our current vocabulary that it’s worth taking a step back and asking ourselves if we know what it really means. The idea developed by John Carroll and his associates at IBM in 1990 was based on sound, cognitive theory as well as empirical observation of how users learned about software. Over time, people have come to interpret minimalism in their own ways. In 1998 Carroll and Hans van der Meij wrote an essay on Ten Common Misconceptions About Minimalism, among which, we find:

  • Minimalism means brevity.
  • Minimalism does not support people who learn by reading.
  • Minimalism has no theoretical foundation.

I would add one of my own to Carroll’s list:

  • Minimalism means only procedures with no concepts.

So what is minimalism really about? According to Carroll “The minimalist idea, the way I think ...