Visual programming languages promise to make programming easier with simpler graphical methods, broadening access to computing by lessening the need for would-be users to become proficient with textual programming languages, with their somewhat arcane grammars and methods removed from the problem space of the user. However, after more than forty years of research in the field, visual methods remain in the margins of use and programming remains the bailiwick of people devoted to the endeavor. VPL designers need to understand the mechanisms of usability that pertain to complex systems like programming language environments. Effective research tools for studying usability, and sufficiently constrained, mature subjects for investigation are scarce. This study applies a usability research tool, with its origins in applied psychology, to a programming language surrogate from the hardware description language class of notations. The substitution is reasonable because of the great similarity between hardware description languages and programming languages. Considering VHDL (the VHSIC Hardware Description Language) is especially worthwhile for several reasons, but primarily because significant numbers of digital designers regularly employ both textual and visual VHDL environments to meet the same real-world design challenges. A comparative analysis of Cognitive Dimensions assessments of textual and visual VHDL environments should further understanding of the usability issues specifically related to visual methods – in many cases, the same visual methods used in visual programming languages. Furthermore, with this real-world ‘field lab’ better understood, it should be possible to design experiments to pursue the formalization of the CDs framework as a theory.
Department, Program, or Center
Computer Science (GCCIS)
Kontos, George, "Cognitive dimensions usability assessment of textual and visual VHDL environments" (2008). Thesis. Rochester Institute of Technology. Accessed from
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