Perceptual Focus Errors

Perceptual Focus Errors result when there’s not enough expertise to know what to to pay attention.

We Are the Magicians

Maximilien Luce, Morning, Interior, 1890, using pointillist technique

We all make magic every day. Don’t think so? Then consider this, we conjure up complete worlds of information with a mere suggestion, just a bit of outline, a stroke or two, a few words, a spatter of color, a dash of melody. We literally make grand visions from just a trickle of data. This is true for those who design and those who consume information. Let’s first explore our ability to comprehend very incomplete information. Take pointillism — an art movement (technique) that required artists to create images using points of pure color — why are we able to “see” the complete image from a mere collection of dots? With just a collection of colored dots, we are all able to imagine the mood, understand the story, visualize the universe behind this painting. You can say: “well, the artist was great at using dots.” But it is not just dots that we are good at. We reconstruct our reality from little bits of incomplete data all day every day of our lives. Consider the tone of voice of the person who answered the phone — you can easily tell the mood and even guess at the personality of that…

Review eBook: Affordances and Design

Manches a Gigots

Victor Kaptelinin, a Professor at the Department of Information Science and Media Studies, University of Bergen, Norway, and the Department of Informatics, Umeaa University, Sweden, just published an eBook with Interaction Design Foundation: “Affordances and Design.” I was asked to write a review of this book and provide some insights into using affordances in interaction design and HCI. Let me start by providing the definition of affordance as given by Donald Norman: In his eBook, Victor Kaptelinin provides the history of the idea of affordance from its initial introduction by James Gibson in 1977 to the present day. The eBook’s bibliography and reference section is a great place to start the exploration of this topic for anyone new to these ideas. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t help much if an individual is looking for some guidance on how to apply these ideas in practical situations during interaction design or HCI design. For clarity’s sake, allow me to give a very brief explanation of affordances, from their roots to the present time. When James Gibson first introduced the concept of affordances, he focused on physical environment — what actions are possible? And the set of these action were invariable — just because…

Perceptual Blindness in Design

Toy Packaging and Design Fails

It is not always users that fail to see some particularly “cool” aspect of design, failure to notice which leads to failure in product use. Designers are people too and are just as prone to cultural and perceptual blindness — total inability to notice additional (sexual) meanings hidden in their designs. Below are examples that I’ve been collecting from email forwards over the last few years. The general groups are toy packaging, store signs, logos, religious strangeness (especially with cultural shifts in time), product labels, and in particular strange dentists’ ads… Enjoy! Thank you all who contributed to this post!

Task Analysis and Product Design

Kids from India and Vegetable Choices

Imagine your were given an assignment to develop a product that could help people eat healthy. How would you go about creating such a thing? What would you need to learn/understand? What is the right medium or technology vehicle for such a product? How would you even start? Below is a very brief outline of how to get started and the key tools necessary for the job. Project Goals The first order of business is figuring out the business needs and goals: What is the product really supposed to do? You have to ask this even if you are the one who is the client on this project. But, most probably, you are working for someone else — the client — and you have to start by understanding what your client really wants to do. You can do that in several ways: Analyzing the Request for Proposals: On many such projects, there will be an initial document, something like an RFP, that outlines the business goals and desires of the client. While some RFPs are very detailed and fully fleshed out, most are not. There are many reasons for this. Some clients are worried someone will “steal” their ideas and…

Musings on Failure in School

The Math Obstacle In the past few years, reports came out showing strong correlation between failing Algebra and graduation rates — if a kid fails math, he/she won’t be getting their high school diplomas. Here are a few articles describing the studies: “Is Removing Algebra a Key to Reform?” by Daniel Duerden, August 13, 2012 “A Comprehensive Study of the Predictors of High School Outcomes: Why Some Students Graduate on Time While Others Drop Out”. “A Correlation Study of Accuplacer Math and Algebra Scores and Math Remediation on the Retention and Success of Students in the Clinical Laboratory Technology Program at Milwaukee Area Technical College” by James Manto, August 2006. “Is high school tough enough: Full report” by The Center for Public Education. There are many more… Some suggested that based on evidence, we might just want to drop the math curriculum from high school graduation requirement — if there’s a strong correlation, perhaps by removing math, we might remove the problem and more kids graduate. Obviously, I don’t think that this a great solution. But I do come across the math problem a lot as part of the educational evaluations I do in my small practice. What I see…

Optical Illusion — Peripheral Vision Distorts Faces into Grotesque Masks

Here’s an interesting optical illusion — by focusing on the center point of the image and using peripheral vision to observe the faces, the perception of the faces changes drastically, making what we culturally consider “beautiful people” into grotesque masks. In particular, watch the eyes. The eyes seem to grow in size and in proportion to the face. The effect in more pronounced with brown eyes.

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…