Here is something fun to play with today: a tool that visualizes the occurance of words in RateMyProfessor reviews according to the gender of the professor and the department he or she teaches in. Data comes from over a million reviews at RateMyProfessors.com.
NPR just ran an extremely detailed article on the importance and study of anthropometry. The topic is the undue stress nursing places on the spine, even when “proper” lifting procedures are followed. Highlighed is the work of Bill Marras (recent Editor of the journal Human Factors), who developed a sensor rig for the forces experienced by the spine. Read for yourself, but if you want the high points:
“Moving and lifting patients manually is dangerous even for veteran nursing staff, Marras says, for several reasons:
The laws of physics dictate that it’s easiest to lift something when it’s close to your body. But nursing employees have to stand at the side of the bed, relatively far from the patient.
Nursing employees also often bend over the patient. That’s important, because there’s a chain of bones along the spine, called facet joints, hidden under the little bumps protruding under the skin. Those bones interconnect and help absorb loads when standing straight. Marras says that when nurses lift as they’re bending, those bones disengage and their disks take most of the force. Those forces are “much, much higher than what you’d expect in an assembly line worker,” he says.
When nurses keep working under these loads, it causes microscopic tears in the “end plates,” which are films as thin as credit cards above and below each disc. Those tears lead to scar tissue, which can block the flow of nutrients into the disks — until, eventually, the disks start to collapse. “You could be doing this damage [to your back] for weeks or months or years, and never realize it,” says Marras. “The event that caused you to feel the problem is just the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
The final conclusion was that people cannot lift other people safely. Assistive machines are needed, and as the article points out, hospitals do not have them.
I get pretty excited when I see my favorite infovis being used: The Treemap
Just released today – the proposed U.S. budget as a treemap!
So, how well did this visualization work for its intended purpose:
- Points awarded for using a treemap – it makes it so easy to see how massive social security and healthcare are.
- Points deducted for the cluttered overlay text in the Transportation section.
- Points deducted for making the areas clickable, but not actually providing more information beyond a platitude (“Military Personnel: When it comes to our service members and their families, America stands united in support. The budget helps ensure that those who serve our country receive all the support and opportunities they’ve earned and deserve.”)
- Points deducted for making me click a link to “learn more” from a YouTube video of the entire State of the Union address when I could be learning more with a deeper treemap.
I’d like to see more of the blocks broken down into the components they fund, making it as informative and transparent as my go-to example of a treemap: the stock market. My second favorite treemap is a program that will treemap your harddrive, making it easy to see where those giant spacehogging files are hiding, deep in directories you forgot were there. I treemapped my lab server with it as we ran out of space and found giant video files about 10 directories down in an unlikely spot that were eating up our GBs.
Perhaps we could have a treemap that lets us change things in the budget to see how we would make it look, like the American Public Media interactive “Budget Hero” game from a few years ago (now defunct or I would link it)? I learned a LOT about what could budge and what couldn’t budge in the budget from that game.
*All the points deducted are far outweighed by my support of the treemap being used in the first place! Brilliant!
NPR published a great story on Barbara Beskind, a product and interface designer in her early nineties.
My favorite excerpt:
Gretchen Addi, an associate partner at IDEO, hired Beskind. Addi says when Beskind is in a room, young designers do think differently. For example, Addi says IDEO is working with a Japanese company on glasses to replace bifocals. With a simple hand gesture, the glasses will turn from the farsighted prescription to the nearsighted one.
Initially, the designers wanted to put small changeable batteries in the new glasses. Beskind pointed out to them that old fingers are not that nimble.
“It really caused the design team to reflect,” Addi says. They realized they could design the glasses in a way that avoided the battery problem. “Maybe it’s just a USB connection. Are there ways that we can think about this differently?”
There are several wonderful take-home messages:
- Creative and fulfilling work can extend late into the lifetime
- Aging does not just bring limitations, it also extends perspective and wisdom
- Designing for aging is doesn’t detract from a product but can enhance it for people of all ages
- Having a person with such perspective on a design team changes the perspective and thoughts of the rest of the team, the core tenant of participatory design
The big news in tech last week was the unveiling of the Apple Watch. I think it is a nice moment to discuss a range of human factors topics. (This topic may elicit strong feelings for or against Apple or the idea of a smartwatch but let’s keep it about the science.)
The first is technology adoption/acceptance. Lots of people were probably scratching their heads asking, “who wears a watch, nowadays?” But you do see lots of people wearing fitness bands. Superficially, that contrast seems to demonstrate the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) in action. TAM is a way to try to understand when people will adopt new technology. It boils down the essential factors to usability (does it seem easy to use?) and usefulness (does it seem like it will help my work or life?).
Fitness bands check both of the above boxes: since they are essentially single-function devices they are relatively easy to use and tracking fitness is perceived as useful for many people.
Back to the Watch, it may also check off both of the above boxes: it certainly appears easy to use (but we do not know yet), and because it has fitness tracking functions plus many others via apps it certainly may be perceived as useful to the same crowd that buys fitness bands.
The next topic that got me excited was the discussion of the so-called digital crown (shown below). Anne and I have previously studied the contrasts between touch screens and rotary knobs for a variety of computing tasks. Having both choices allows the user select the best input device for the task: touch for pushing big on-screen buttons and large-scale movement and knob for precise, linear movement without obscuring the screen. Using a knob is certainly easier than a touch screen if you have shaky hands or are riding a bumpy cab.
Two small items of note that were included in the Watch was the use of the two-finger gesture on the watch face to send a heart beat to another user–the same gesture many people intuitively think of when they want to feel their own heart beat.
Finally, the Watch has the ability to send animated emoij to other users. What was noteworthy is the ability to manipulate both eyes and mouth in emoji characters. I couldn’t find any literature but I recall somewhere that there is some cross-cultural differences in how people use and interpret emoji: Western users tend to focus on the mouth while Eastern users tend to focus on the eyes (if you know what reference I’m talking about or if I’m mis-remembering, feel free to comment).
There’s so much I haven’t brought up (haptic and multi-modal feedback, user interface design, automation, voice input and of course privacy)!
Yumm! This photo was sent in by John Sprufera. As he said, “Can you spot the human factors problem?”
Sometimes it’s good to take a step back from the seriousness of our work and find new focus. H(aiku)man factors is the brainchild of my colleague Douglas Gillan. Each summarizes a concept in the field while following the haiku form of 5-7-5 and an emphasis on juxtoposition and inclusion of nature. Enjoy and contribute your own in the comments!
All of the above are by Doug Gillan.
Inattentional blindness by Allaire Welk
Challenging primary task
Did you notice it?
Affordances by Lawton Pybus
round, smooth ball is thrown
rolls, stops at the flat, wing-back
chair on which I sit
Escalation by Olga Zielinska
headache, blurred vision
do not explore Web MD
it’s not a tumor
Automatic Processing by Anne McLaughlin
end of the workday
finally get to go home
arugh, forgot groceries
Automation by Richard Pak
No wait, I’ll get it myself
Drat, I forgot how
Prospective Memory by Natalee Baldwin
I forgot the milk!
Prospective memory failed
Use a reminder
Working Memory by Will Leidheiser
how much can I remember?
many things at once.
This guest post is from graduate students Haley Vaigneur and Bliss Altenhoff. Haley and Bliss compared the usability of two fitness trackers as part of a graduate course in health informatics taught by Kelly Caine.
Wearable fitness trackers allow users to track and monitor their health. While these devices originated as a way for doctors to monitor chronically ill patients’ vitals, they have recently been developed and marketed for to a more general, health-conscious market. Equipped with advanced sensors such as accelerometers, users’ activity and sleep can be automatically tracked and then compared with their logged fitness goals and daily diet. Users can then use their statistics to help create or maintain a healthier lifestyle. Two examples of such devices are the Jawbone Up and Fitbit Flex, shown above.
Wearable technology is popular and has the potential to dramatically impact health (e.g. long-term health and activity data tracking, immediate syncing with Electronic Health Records (EHRs)). But these benefits can only be realized if the user is able to effectively use and understand these devices. This was the motivation for focusing on two of the most popular models of fitness trackers: the JawBone Up and FitBit Flex and their accompanying smartphone apps.
This study examined the usability of these two devices and their accompanying smartphone apps by having 14 participants (7 for Jawbone Up, 7 for FitBit Flex) perform a think-aloud test on five key features: Setup, Setting Goals, Tracking Diet, Tracking Activity, and Setting an Alarm. Participants then kept the wearable for three days and were encouraged to incorporate it into their normal routine. On the third day, participants completed the System Usability Scale survey and an informal interview regarding their experiences using the wearable.
Some of the key Jawbone UP findings were:
- Adding food or drink items was somewhat difficult due to unintuitive organization and unpredictable bugs. For example, one participant attempted to add a food item by scanning the bar code of a Lunchable, but the app added a Dr. Pepper to the log.
- Participants struggled to find the alarm settings, with one conducting a general web search for help to understand the Smart Sleep Window settings and how to save alarm settings.
- None of the participants were able to figure out how to communicate to the band or app that they would like to begin a workout. They didn’t realize that the Stopwatch menu option was intended to time the workout.
Some of the key findings of the FitBit Flex were:
- Participants felt that the wristband (when using the appropriate sized band) was not uncomfortable or revealing and they were proud to wear it because it made them feel healthy.
- Users had a difficult time figuring out where to go on the app to set their health goals at first. Their instinct was to find it on the app homepage, or Dashboard, but it was under the Account tab.
- Some users had difficulty putting on the wristband, and several noted that it fell off unexpectedly. Users were also confused about where to “tap” the wristband to activate it, based on the instructions given in the app. The picture can appear to instruct the user to tap below the black screen, when the user actually needs to tap the screen directly, and firmly.
- Users did not realize that after turning Bluetooth on their phone, they needed to return to the app to tell the phone and wristband to begin syncing. They also noted that leaving Bluetooth on all day drained their phone battery.
Based on time per task and number of errors the FitBit Flex performed better than the Jawbone Up on the five tasks. Users’ ultimate trust in the data, willingness to continue using the wearable, and general satisfaction with each wearable was heavily influenced by their initial experiences (first day). The positive initial think-aloud results for the FitBit Flex were also consistent with a more positive later experience and stronger acceptance of the wearable.
This study found that there is still much room for improvement in the usability of the accompanying smartphone apps. A major concern for these kinds of devices is keeping user interest and motivation, which can easily be lost through confusing or cumbersome designs. By striving to improve the human factors of the apps simultaneous to the capabilities of the actual wearables, there is great potential for greater user satisfaction, and thus more long-term use.
While activity tracking wearables are currently most popular with more tech-savvy, active people, these devices should be designed to be used by all ages and levels of experience users. These devices could change health monitoring drastically and give people the power and ability to make better choices, and live healthier lifestyles.
Haley Vaigneur is a graduate student in Industrial Engineering at Clemson University. Her concentration is Human Factors and Ergonomics, emphasizing on research in the healthcare field.
Bliss Altenhoff is a Doctoral Candidate studying Human Factors Psychology at Clemson University, where she received her M.S. in Applied Psychology in 2012. She is a member of the Perception and Action (PAC) lab, where her research is concentrated on enhancing human perception and performance by enriching perceptual display technologies for laparoscopic surgeons. .
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1314342. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
Anne sent me an example of, “why haven’t they thought of this before”: an air vent with the temperature display and control knob all in one.
In this article describing the new Audi TT with glass dashboard, they describe the novel control/display/air vent seen in the image above. I guess one problem here is if it is accessible to only the driver or if it’s centrally located.
The dashboard (shown in the linked article), however, is another story. While it looks futuristic, it looks like a distraction nightmare!