Mode Errors

Mode Errors result when an individual fails to keep track of changes in function of the devise due to multiple modes of operation.

Skin-deep Usability

The Universal Remote Control Story A few years ago, we got a Star Trek phaser universal remote control as a gag gift for the holidays. As any universal remote control (URC), it was supposed to control any and all devices that were hooked up to our TV and do it with a flair of shooting a phaser at the general direction of our equipment. A few days later, it was relegated to our sons’ toy box, and now I wouldn’t even know where to look for the thing. Big buttons, footballs, phasers, UFOs, futuristic control centers—the makers of universal remote controls have tried them all. But consumers still buy one URC after another in the hope of finding something that would work for them. Why are these things so darn hard to use? Manufacturers seem to believe that by giving their products a friendly, toy-like appearances, these devices would seem more user-friendly and easier to use. But, personally, I don’t want a giant ball in middle of my kitchen table or rolling around my living room floor. I don’t want the kids to toss footballs to control the channels or fire phasers to lower the sound. I just want something…

The History of Usability

NASA Space Shuttle SR-71 Blackbird U2 Cockpit Designs

When did we start being concerned with usability? Some will say that such concern is part of being human: cavemen worked their stone tools to get them just right. Interaction design mattered even then. But the field of usability research really came into being when the tools we used started to run up against our cognitive and physical limitations. And to avoid hitting literal, as well as psychological, walls, it was the aviation engineers who started to think about usability seriously. While cars were becoming ever more sophisticated and trains ever faster, it was the airplanes that were the cause of most usability problems around WWI. Cars were big, but didn’t go very fast or had a lot of roads to travel on at the turn of the century. In the first decade of the 20th century, there were only 8,000 cars total in the U.S. traveling on 10 miles of paved roads. In 1900, there were only 96 deaths caused by the automobile accidents. Planes were more problematic. For one thing, the missing roads weren’t a problem. And a plane falling out of the sky in an urban area caused far more damage than a car ever could. Planes…