Tag Archive for cognitive scaffolding

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…

Doctors and Anchoring Errors

In the past few months, two people I know almost died (one will die very soon) due to medical mistakes. Considering both of these men are well educated and live in America, in major metropolitan areas, with access to a wide variety of experts, and with very supportive family and friends, how can this happen? Tragically enough, their stories are not the exceptions. They fell victim to Anchoring Errors — judgement errors common in situations with lots of stress (e.g. emergency rooms); where many individuals are involved (e.g. a parade of doctors assigned to a patient in a hospital); where there’s inadequate time for problem solving (again, think emergency rooms); and, most importantly, there’s no built-in mechanisms to go back and re-conceptualize the problem, to re-diagnose, and to change the solution in the light of other variables or data. Doctors make mistakes. We ALL do, all the time. But when doctors make it, the prognosis for the patients are sometimes dire. In the cases I’m about to describe, deadly… “How Doctors Think” is an amazing book and one I have given to many of my friends and family and even to my personal physician. It describes way in which even…

Designing an Optimum Nudge

Tornado Exhibit at the Exploratorium

I’m sitting by a window looking out at a rainy Paris street, thinking of cultural differences between Paris and San Francisco, taking advantage of bad weather to do some writing. Over two decades ago, I did some ethnographic research a Exploratorium, looking at how different visitors interacted with the museum’s hands-on exhibits. I was looking for ways to improve the visitors’ experience, raise understanding of the phenomena they were observing. What I saw was different ways in which visitors experienced failure: p-prims that got in a way; folksy wisdom that caused confusion; lack of affordances that led to bottlenecks; permission giving that set up strange expectations; etc. The results of this study turned into a Master Thesis for UC Berkeley. Now, I would like to explore some of the ideas that surfaced during my Exploratorium research and apply them to design of nudging — carefully crafted affordances and perceptual cues that manipulated users into acting a certain way while maintaining the illusion of freedom of action. Let me start with a bit of history — a quick summary of some of the results of Exploratorium study. Permission Giving Two decades ago, “hands-on” exhibits were still novel in the museum world.…

Special Preview: Socio-Technical System Design

Segway Tours in SF

Brian Whitworth and Adnan Ahmad contributed a chapter on Socio-Technical System Design for the free Interaction-Design textbook. This is a very interesting, if technical discussion of the subject. While reading it, I kept thinking about how I would love to debate some of the points raised in this Chapter in person. But lacking this opportunity, below are my ideas and thoughts on the subject of Socio-Technical System Design. First, let me give a quick summary of what is a socio-technological system paraphrasing a bit from Whitworth and Ahmad own words: Socio-technology is about technology and people. Technology is any device. IT system is then a combination of software AND device(s). Human computer interaction (HCI) is a person plus an IT system. Introduction of “person” brings physical, informational and psychological levels into the combined system. And finally, socio-technical system (STS) is merger of community and HCI(s). A Bit of Historical Perspective When my son was in third grade, he was given an assignment: compare some technology from today with that of 100 years ago. He chose transportation. Here’s his insight: 100 years ago, going from San Francisco to Berkeley took a very long time. There were no bridges. People had to drive their…

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…

Special Preview: Wearable Computing (Steve Mann)

The next chapter in the Interaction-Design.org tome on human-computer interaction design is now up for an early review to my readers. This chapter takes on Wearable Computing and is written by Steve Mann. Mostly, this is a historical review of Prof. Mann’s experimentations with wearable computing devices, and for those unfamiliar with this subject area, this is an interesting introduction. On the left, you can see an early version of wearable computing: Steve Mann’s backpack based system from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. But as always, I have a slightly different take on this topic… The Little Mac That Saved My Son’s Life Almost 18 years ago, I went into a preterm labor. At 24 and a half weeks into gestation, this was very scary. At the time, San Francisco Children’s Hospital was pioneering a program for high risk pregnancies (which mine just turned out to be). Two doctors, Dr. Kuts and Dr. Maine, figured out how to use an old Mac SE, a modem, a telephone, a subcutaneous pump, and a belt which measures contractions to allow women like me to stay at home as much as we could (as opposed to spending months in the hospital). Here’s…

Special Preview: Activity Theory

Crisis Mapping Illustration

Once again, we get an early preview of the next chapter of Interaction-Design.org textbook: Activity Theory. The author of the chapter, Victor Kaptelinin, did a wonderful job of summarizing decades of research in educational psychology, cognitive science, and HCI — from Vygotsky to Moran. If you’re unfamiliar with the theories, research, and thinking that brought us to present day HCI design, this is a great place to start (and includes all of the references to the relevant literature). Adopting an activity-theoretical perspective has an immediate implication for design: it suggests that the primary concern of designers of interactive systems should be supporting meaningful human activities in everyday contexts, rather than striving for logical consistency and technological sophistication. While this chapter focuses mainly on human computer interaction (HCI), I would argue that we need to be broader: we need to focus on product design. And as always, I mean product to be interpreted in a very broad sense. We are moving rapidly into a world where everything we touch is a computing device. Today, I Twitted that my washing machine is an ICT device — the new ARM chip is small, requires very little power, and will be incorporated into everything.…