Working Memory

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…

Emotional Scaffolding

Processing emotions takes time and energy. Part of the working memory is taken up by analyzing the emotional state of others, environmental stresses, personal feelings, and anxiety. Since working memory is an extremely limited resource, anything that takes up space there without our bidding (against our will) takes away from our ability to think through situations, to problem solve, and to make well-reasoned decisions. Instead of thinking, we are using up the working memory for processing emotions. Sometimes, emotions are just the right thing to focus on — to pay attention to. How does this painting makes me feel? Do I like this person? This music feels good… But if you are taking a math test, focusing on how much you really hate test-taking takes away from your ability to take the test. It is very common for individuals to “get” the subject matter, but fail the test. Some people are good at dealing with anxieties and some have trouble controlling their attention controls away from fretting. That’s one of the reason some educators are talking about doing away with summative assessments (final exams) in favor of continuous assessment (assessment as part of learning) — the on-going observation of students’…

Special Preview: Affective Computing

Pong Interface

Some 25 years ago, I came up with tiny application: each day, a person picks a color that represents his or her predominant emotional state; the collection of color moods are mapped onto a calendar and displayed as an animated film, summarizing the emotional life of person. It was simple and easy and very effective. And in some way, this was also part of the affective computing — computers that use emotion as part of HCI. [Note: This could and was done with watercolors as flip book some 40 years ago when I played in my art class in school.] Affective Computing, I feel, is only recently became part of the “vocabulary” of computer-based developers. When I first started working in this field, graphics were non-existent, thus Pong. In the early nineties, my business partner and I met with the president of Organic, a web design firm in San Francisco, who promptly informed us that his business had no need for Interaction or Interface Designers, that’s what graphic artists were for. Now, psychologists, sociologists, and sociologists are routinely hired by creative firms to help solve design problems. Times change! There are a lot of posts on emotional design on this…

p-Prims about Memory

Memory can be tricky—somethings seem to come to mind without bidding, while others are stubbornly evading our efforts at recalling them. We have many explanations for how and why somethings are easy to remember and others take so much effort; or why some people are very good at mnemonic feats and others not so much. Many of these mental models of how memory works are faulty (or simply not true) and are based on folksy wisdom passed from one generation to the next. Some of these wisdoms involve tricks for remembering things. For example, my Russian grandmother suggested tying corners of handkerchief to aide memory—if you notice a knot on the corner, you know that there’s something you supposed to remember. Since I don’t carry a handkerchief, I use my rings for the same effect—move a ring from finger to another (where it typically doesn’t belong) and then at least I know that should be keeping something in mind. Of course this strategy does nothing to help you remember what it is you are supposed to remember, but that’s another problem. So I thought to put together a little list of memory-related p-prims—a set of beliefs—that are common in our culture. Below,…

The Haptic Feel of Books versus eBooks

We’ve traveled to Rome for our family vacation this year, and aside from a few summer reading books that I couldn’t find in an eBook format, we relied on our two Kindles and 3 iPads for our family reading needs. This is the second summer we brought primarily electronic versions of books—”The Count of Monte Cristo” is much easier to read when it fits into your hand and doesn’t weigh a ton… In the days before the Kindle and iPad, we carried an extra suitcase just for books. But there are drawbacks to buying and reading eBooks. Below are some of my thoughts and experiences—the cogitations of a voracious reader. Time & Progress As I was reading my novels, I found myself repeatedly trying to figure out where in the book I was. How far along was I? When is the next natural break (chapter, section end)? How many pages are there to the end of the chapter, end of the section, end of the book? These were not idle curiosities about my reading accomplishments, although when you do finish reading the book version of “The Count of Monte Cristo”, you do have a sense of having read something. An…

Information Awareness & Failure Analysis

Given the current state of affairs in Japan’s nuclear facilities, I thought it would be good to do a quick analysis of what’s going wrong and why the officials on the ground act as they do (based on very limited information that’s trickling in via the news sources). As of today (morning of March 14th), we have two reactors that have experienced explosions, partial core meltdowns, and multiple other failures. I’ve put together data from the news with failure analysis for an alternative view of the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan. Like many aspects of usability, FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) was the first to develop practical understanding of Information Awareness and Failure Analysis—pilots and airplane designers what to minimize errors in flight and understand failure when it happens. Like the rest of the world, I’m extremely grateful for their insight into these two aspects of systems design and usability. Below is a quick introduction to the basics. Information Awareness Information Awareness is a wonderful term that describes the state of user’s knowledge of the problem at any particular time. This means that Information Awareness changes in time and from person to person. For designers of a complex system that aims…