Users

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…

Be the Customer

By our very nature, humans are an “us versus them” kind of mammal. We are quick to judge and categorize: “he’s our kind’a people” or “she’s management.” We adapt and root for our favorite sports teams, sometimes even resorting to violence to “defend our guys.” We peg an art department against the engineers; we side with nurses over doctors; we fight with democrats against republicans; we wave our flags in a spirit of nationalism. And it doesn’t matter if we all work for the same company, heal the same patients, want the same basic rights, or live on a very small planet—we tend to take sides. So it’s no surprise that when product designers develop products the feeling of “us against the users” creeps up into the process. To protect the design process from these “us versus them” impulses, we can create a well-realized user personas based on the the audience taxonomy developed during the conceptual design stage of product design. For each major category in the audience taxonomy, a sample fictional user is created which embodies all of the traits in that audience category: age, profession, socio-economic background, culture and sub-culture, interests and dislikes, family status, education level, etc.…

Metacognition Failure: If I find it easy, it must not be important

Making something easy to understand is extremely difficult. A good designer knows this, knows how hard one has to work to make something comprehensible and easy to use. Unfortunately, users and consumers of products (including education) tend not to get it. We live in society ruled by “More is Better” p-prim: more stuff is better, more money is better, more food is good, more medication is great…more, more, more. Movies, television, newspapers, magazines, all reinforce this idea in our minds. We live in a “super-size me” world. But this basic decision-making algorithm leads to very faulty reasoning. There are multiple corollaries to the “more is better” axiom: thick books without graphics are more educationally valuable, more important (this is based on research I did many years ago with 5th graders); longer essays are clearly better and should get higher graders (the students worked harder/longer on them); big words are better than small ones in expressing ideas (thus we get very pretentious writing); work should be judged by the time it took to complete and not by the quality of the results it produces; more expensive clothes (cars, stereos, etc.) are clearly more valuable (this is a true statement, but most…

Reflections on The Science of a Happy Marriage

Parker-Pope, T. (2010). “The Science of a Happy Marriage.” New York Times. Visited June 24 2010. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/10/tracking-the-science-of-commitment/?pagemode=print Summary: The article, by Tara Parker Pope, discusses the science of a happy marriage, and why some individuals cheat on their partners, while others don’t. Pope explains that some scientists account for this by pointing to biological or genetic factors and others assess the psychological impact of flirting with a stranger. According to some research, it is possible to train yourself to protect your marriage by increasing the feelings of commitment. One researcher, Hasse Walum studied 552 pairs of twins to assess  a gene that contributes to the body’s regulation of the bonding hormone vasopressin.  Overall, men who demonstrated a variation of the gene were less likely to be married. Those that were married in this category, were more likely to be in unhappy marriages or to have experienced a relationship crisis. Other research accounts for how the brain can be trained to encourage faithfulness. John Lydon’s research found that when individuals were presented with scenarios where an attractive woman might threaten their relationship, they instinctively told themselves, ‘he’s not so great.’ His research also revealed that when women were primed to imagine…

On “Story? Unforgettable. The Audience? Often Not”

Carey, B. (2009). “Story? Unforgettable. The Audience? Often Not.” New York Times Online. Visited on 1 July 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/health/01mind.html?hpw=&pagewanted=print Summary: This article discusses destination memory and its affect on different social situations. It explains that people often remember the source of a memory but not its intended destination. The article distinguishes that remembering whom you’ve told a story to uses a different kind of memory from the actual story itself. Source memory, the ability to recall where a fact was learned, is different from destination memory, which is to whom the fact was told. The article goes on to explain that who we tell our stories to is a critical part of our social identity and that repeating oneself can be damaging and embarrassing. In a study at the University of Waterloo 60 students were asked to tell personal and random facts to the faces of 50 famous people. The outcome of the study was that the subjects did not tend to remember which facts they told to whom, even when it was personal information. The results suggest that no matter how personal, or important, the story, there is the possibility that if the audience has heard it before the…

On “Flattery Will Get You Far”

Article:  Valdesolo, P. (2010). “Flattery Will Get You So Far.” Scientific American Online, Scientificamerican.com. Retrieved on 30 June 2010: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=flattery-will-get-you-far Summary: Its not uncommon for people to kiss up and flatter others in their everyday lives, with the hopes that such remarks will get them what they want.  Many times these motives are easily recognized and written off as insincere.  However it’s quite possible that the effects of such flattery are more powerful than we think. Researchers are taking a deeper look into how blatant flattering influences consumer loyalty and sales.  A study conducted by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology found that consumers exposed to a department store’s advertising campaign, commending shoppers on their sense of style, were likely to continue making purchases at the store.  Furthermore, these consumers, who explicitly expressed their awareness of the stores attempt to manipulate behavior through flattery, were likely to join the store club. Researchers believe this type of flattery works by reinforcing the above average ideas that individuals reserve for themselves, as well as increasing esteem in areas where some feel low.   The article suggests that positive images in advertising, when linked to products, might also subconsciously influence consumer desire…

A coffee can make you forget

BBC Staff. (2004). “A coffee can make you forget.” BBC NEWS. Retrieved July 1st, 2010: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3909085.stm SUMMARY: This article looks at the effects of caffeine found in coffee to the short-term memory. It proves that caffeine hinders ones ability to produce one-word answers but instead testers state that the answer is ‘on the tip of their tongues.’ To prove that caffeine does in fact affect ones short-term memory a study was conduction on two groups of 32 college students. One group was given 2oo mg of coffee, while the other was given a dummy drug. When the group with caffeine was asked to answer a question with a one-word answer they were less likely to answer correctly, while the ones without caffeine were successful. It was concluded from this study that caffeine does in fact keep one alert but unless a question is posed, pertaining to the users current train of thought it will be very difficult to produce a word. “It aids short-term memory when the information to be recalled is related to the current train of thought but hinders short-term memory when it is unrelated.” As a regular coffee drinker I found this article really interesting as I…