Errors

Cultural Differences in Interaction Design, a few observations

Amsterdam

A couple of months ago, I went on the business trip to The Hague and Amsterdam. There are always cultural differences, especially when a person visits a previously unfamiliar place. And so it was with me. Here are two quirky examples. The Room with a View I’m not particularly prudish or modest, especially when staying alone in a hotel room. But this feature of my room in The Hague was a bit puzzling. The shower and toilet were connected to the room not only by a door (with lock), but also by a picture window. The window coverings were controlled from the OUTSIDE of the bathroom — so effectively, if you were sharing a room, you were at a whim of your roommate when it came to your toilet privacy. But perhaps that’s how they roll in The Hague… I should also add that directly opposite of the toilet window was the window to the outside — if you haven’t considered what internal lighting does to your visibility to the outside world in time, you are out of luck. The Double Action As a designer, most of my work in web-based. But this doesn’t stop me from being annoyed at…

Define your terms: What is sex?

The article, “Sex Makes You Smarter — Can ‘Virtual Sex’ Do The Same?” was a great example of either knowing your audience too well or over-using jargon. The most prevalent problem in it was the lack of defined terms. The author assumed that the reader knew terms like: neurogenesis, glucocorticoid levels, and dendritic architecture (a case of cognitive blindness). But the biggest failure was the author’s negligence to define the most basic term about which the article was written: sex. What is sex? Who is having it? How are they having it? These questions were unanswered. The research on which the article was based indicated that male rats were the subject of the study and were “exposed” to sexually-receptive female rats. That was it. That was the only definition of sex in the entire article, and it was a very vague definition, especially if one extrapolated it to the realm of human sex, which is known to be complicated and varied. Is the author talking about the sexual gratification of males only? If sex was a form of exercise, as the author explained it was, how much caloric effort should the male engage in to achieve it or what heart rate should…

We Are 80% Optimistic

Gallagher, James, (2011). “Brain ‘rejects negative thoughts’.”  BBC.co.uk. Visited on October 8, 2012: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-15214080 This article, “Brain ‘rejects negative thoughts’”, speaks of a generalized view of the brain based on evidence gathered from a wide population. Optimists, or those whose frontal lobes process good news and comparatively ignore bad news, make up about 80% of the population; while the remaining 20%, the pessimists, have a similar predisposition to bad news. Since optimists do not absorb bad news, risks are often underestimated; as a population, it can be generalized to say that the people respond more to good news than to bad. Conceptual Design: If risks are to be acknowledged and people’s views changed to reflect them, information regarding them should be emphasized. Information with positive effect will be more attractive, and need not be emphasized for message to be processed. Knowledge of this could be particularly useful in government. Knowing this, in sales, information may be designed which downplays risks, and emphasizes positive attributes, for maximum acceptance of the product in a general population. Furthermore, a population whose predilection is to pessimism could be acknowledged with information products designed specifically for them. Interaction Design: Elements of the product may be…

Words, Language, Influence, & Design

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of language. Sure, there have been a lot of news relating to language (election, after all, is only a few months away): legitimate rape is one example of powerful words/phrases in the news. But I would like to briefly explore how words and language can influence the design and use of a product. Language Development It might be interesting to start really early (or to look to unusual cases of individuals without language). The following program by RadioLab does a wonderful job of introducing language and the development of comprehension: Words that Change the World. This half-hour audio show presents the work of Susan Schaller, Charles Fernyhough, Elizabeth Spelke, and James Shapiro. Susan describes a case of a deaf 27 year old man who was never taught language and his journey to comprehension. Charles describes an experiment where babies, kids, and rats are asked to find items in a blank room after a brief disorientation. He discovers that language is essential to linking concepts in our brain. Elizabeth explores the benefits of language farther. And James, a Shakespeare scholar at Columbia University, talks about the use of language to communicate complex…

Cultural Barriers to Success

Tim Buton Exhibition at La Cinémathèque in Paris

Man-made Disasters in a Wake of Tsunami This month, The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission issued its final report on the disaster: It was man-made! Here’s a quote from the report: What must be admitted — very painfully — is that this was a disaster “Made in Japan.” Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program”; our groupism; and our insularity. Had other Japanese been in the shoes of those who bear responsibility for this accident, the result may well have been the same. The last sentence is particular insightful — the blame was not rested on the shoulders of a particular individual, as tempting as that might be, or even on the shoulders of some manager. The fault was places on the cultural context in which the incident played out. Museums in Paris We just got back from seeing a Tim Burton exhibit at the La Cinémathèque, in Paris. The content of the exhibit, as one could imagine, is quite wonderful. But there were many, many human failures in making the visit an enjoyable experience. And yes,…

Where to post the “OK” Button on the Screen?

OK Button on Early Mac

I have very strong opinions about where on the screen the OK or NEXT or SUBMIT buttons go in relation to CANCEL. Without giving it away, I’m going to walk through the design decision tree and provide a lot of references for both sides of the issue — yes, there are strong feelings about the right versus the left position choice. I’m not alone! Passive versus Active Buttons Active Buttons are the ones that advance the action to the next level. Passive ones return the users to previous state, negate the action sequence. OKAY, OK, NEXT, SUBMIT, ACCEPT, GO are all active buttons. CANCEL, BACK, PREVIOUS are action that reverse forward momentum and push the user to places they’ve been before. HELP and INFO sidetrack the user and distract from forward thrust of activity. In general, product designers want to move the users toward their goals — thus we want the perceptual focus to be on the action buttons. We want to make sure that users fist see the way forward, and then click on the right button that propels them forward to completion of the task. All distractions and side movements should be downplayed with Interface Design with the…

Socially Constructed Beliefs

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) came out with a strong recommendation against the use of bumpers in cribs. The September 2007 issue of The Journal of Pediatrics examined deaths and injuries attributed to infant crib bumper pads: “Twenty-seven accidental deaths reported by medical examiners or coroners were attributed to bumper pads. The mechanism of death included suffocation and strangulation by bumper ties. Twenty-five nonfatal injuries were identified, and most consisted of minor contusions. All retail bumpers had hazardous properties.” AAP has finally announced that it is formally against bumpers. That certainly took a while. And, amazingly, the bumper pads are still for sale by all major baby room outfitters, and parents are still buying them and using them with their beloved offspring. Why? Why would parents knowingly endanger their children? This is an interesting case of Mental Model Traps, Mirroring Errors, and Cognitive Blindness. Mental Model Traps Let’s start by Mental Model Traps that parents fall into in this particular case. To do this, we need to back up in time a bit. The design of children’s beds had undergone considerable evolution over the last few centuries. Cribs used to be just large baskets with tightly woven sides. The weave…