Abstract Research during recent years has revealed that human errors are not stochastic events which can be removed through improved training programs or optimal interface design. Rather, errors tend to reflect either systematic interference between various models, rules, and schemata, or the effects of the adaptive mechanisms involved in learning. In terms of design implications, these findings suggest that reliable human-system interaction will be achieved by designing interfaces which tend to minimize the potential for control interference and support recovery from errors. In other words, the focus should be on control of the effects of errors rather than on the elimination of errors per se. In this paper, we propose a theoretical framework for interface design that attempts to satisfy these objectives. The goal of our framework, called ecological interface design, is to develop a meaningful representation of the process which is not just optimised for one particular level of cognitive control, but that supports all three levels simultaneously. The paper discusses the necessary requirements for a mapping between the process and the combined action/observation surface, and analyses of the resulting influence on both the interferences causing error and on the opportunity for error recovery left to the operator.