Errors

Alternative Medicine, Placebos, and Rasputin

In the last few weeks there has been several articles and studies published on the effectiveness of alternative medicines and placebos: “Placebos Help Patients Even Without Faking It, Scientists Say“; “Sugar Pills Help, Even When Patients are Aware of Them“; and “Alternative remedies ‘dangerous’ for kids says report“; “Doctors warn over homeopathic ‘vaccines’“. The gist of these beliefs derives from several factors: People Tend to Get Better: most of us get well over time even without medical intervention. Colds pass; flues do too. Most infections heal with time without the aid of antibiotics. Evolution have provided the human race with a great immune system. Medicine helps, we get better faster with treatment. But in most cases, we survive. So when you hear someone recommend an alternative medicine and predict that a cold will go away in three days, chances are you will get better. And over time, we the people develop p-prims (folksy wisdoms) that link health with alternative tratments. “Natural Chemicals” p-Prims: there is a strong belief among industrialized societies, at the present time, that “natural” is better for us than “artificial”. There are many sources of this belief, too many to cover in this short article. And somehow,…

TSA: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

There has been a lot of stories lately about the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and most have been less than flattering (to say the least). How can an agency that was designed to “serve and protect” the citizens of the United States from harm evoke such wrath from ordinarily shy and non-vocal travelers? This blog is about product design, and so my analysis of the situation will treat this as a failure of product design. Where are the failures? Mistake #1 TSA Conceptual Design: Blocking There are bad guys out there that want to do us—citizen travelers from US—harm. There are the box-cutter carrying terrorists, the shoe-bombers, the liquid explosives bandits, the underwear-bombers, the printer cartridge explosives engineers. TSA installed airport security measures that would counteract each of these threats as they revealed themselves. The basic conceptual design strategy here is blocking: identify a threat and find an effective block. This is a strategy based on hindsight: if we knew that people could sneak bombs in their underwear, then we would have had a way to block it. We didn’t know, but now we do, and so we created systems to block this threat in the future. TSA Game Plan: Escalating…

Lessons to be Learned from the GAP Logo Debacle

Geoghegan, T. (2010). “Lessons to be learnt from the Gap logo debacle.” BBC News Magazine. Retrieved on October 12, 2010: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11517129 A new logo can brighten up a company’s image or enrage loyal customers. In the case of GAP, the latter was obvious. The release of the new logo led to a huge online backlash from customers on FB and twitter conveying how unhappy they were with the logo. Within a week of release, GAP chose to revert back to the original logo after a slew of criticism. GAP LOGO The importance of being an iconic brand has been severely undervalued. The association of the image and brand is overlaid in the minds of people for the last 20 years. Changing the visual must have pre empted GAP to have tested the logo with focus groups and understand the reactions of the audience.  The changed their visual imagery without upsetting customers. The logos below have retained their sense of familiarity which is refreshing and yet without really giving customers the need to process an all together new image to associate with the brand. Companies uniformly moved from serif font to a more elegant Helvetica. MSNBC LOGO GE LOGO Product Positioning:…

e-Waste & Product Design

I just came across a very interesting video by Annie Leonard. She’s been making little, approachable documentaries that explain difficult to understand issues—e-waste being one of those. Here’s her latest: The Story of Stuff. This is the story about how stuff gets designed, made, distributed, and then trashed. The Story of Bottled Water. This is the story about drinking water and the marketing of bottled water.

Language-learning expertise

Landau, E. (2010). “From brain to language to accent.”  CNN Online. Retrieved on October 4, 2010: http://pagingdrgupta.blogs.cnn.com/2010/09/23/from-brain-to-language-to-accent/?hpt=Sbin Becoming a proficient speaker of at least one language is a hallmark of the typical human psychological development. When it comes to learning more than one language, however, our abilities seem much more widely dispersed. Why might some people display a greater “talent” for learning a second language (or more) than others? By far the best known predictor of success at foreign language learning is the learner’s age.  An increasing number of children who grow up in bilingual environments from early on may well grow up to be fluent speakers of both their native languages. But you don’t have to be natively bilingual in order to master multiple languages at the native-speaker level. In a classic study of second-language acquisition by Johnson & Newport (1989), immigrants to the USA were tested for high-level mastery of English (including phonetic and grammatical nuances), and the results were examined as a function of age at initial immersion in the English-speaking environment. People who started learning English before the age of 7 tended to achieve native-like proficiency. From there on, the older one was at arrival, the less native…

Sizing Up Consciousness by Its Bits

Zimmer, C., (2010). “Sizing Up Consciousness by Its Bits.” NYTimes.com. Visited on October 3, 2010: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/21/science/21consciousness.html Carl Zimmer’s article “Sizing Up Consciousness by Its Bits” for The New York Times seeks to introduce and explore a relatively new area of research into human consciousness. In interviews with the medical researcher Dr. Giulio Tononi, the article discusses current and past conceptions of consciousness and its’ implications for our interactions with each other and with our environment. Given the importance of consciousness in everyday human life, one would reasonably assume that at this time science would have a detailed understanding of consciousness and how it functions. This is not the case, however. Despite centuries of philosophical debate, medical research, and technological development, humans are largely in the dark, so to speak, about what creates and maintains the spark of consciousness. In the context of our currently vague understanding, Dr. Tononi’s research proposes a novel way of conceptualizing consciousness. Dr. Tononi’s goal is to apply the theories of informational networks to the human brain, in a method he terms “Integrated Information Theory.” This theory, hereafter referred to as IIT, seeks to understand the human brain as an integrated network of nodes (neurons in…

More is always better – Or so most think!

Tugend, A., (2010). “For the Dishwasher’s Sake, Go Easy on the Detergent.” NY Times Online. Visited on November 04, 2010: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/13/your-money/13shortcuts.html   If dishwashers do not seem to be doing their job or if your clothes are not coming out as soft as you’d like them to, or if these machines break down easily, it is most likely due to “user error.” We throw in multiple fabric softener sheets because more is better. More isn’t better in this case! The excess sheets liquefy when the dryer gets hot and gum up the dryer. Most people use ten to fifteen times the amount of soap they need. This excess soap is detrimental to the life of the machines.   This article has some clear implications for interaction and interface design.  User errors are likely to happen. Even if you have a manual with detailed instructions, the chances of somebody reading that manual are very slim. Even if they read it, they are still likely to err. How can design inculcate the right usage in the user? In this case, what can design do to prevent errors resulting from the ‘More is better’ p-prim?    Possible Interaction Design Solutions: Solutions could be…