Soft Keyboard: Smart Idea or Incredibly Frustrating?

ThickButtons is a replacement soft-keyboard for Android phones that works in a very unique way. It uses the predictive word functionality available in many soft keyboards (where it can predict what word you are likely to be typing based on what you’ve typed) but takes that one step further by enlarging the next letter on the keyboard. Take a look:

This seems very ingenious but the constantly changing key sizes could be frustrating because it interferes with our ability to use consistent elements of the environment in learning. When the mappings between stimulus (key size, location) and response remain fixed (as in a hardware or soft-keyboard), it is much easier for us to learn and automatize.  This is one of the seminal findings of cognitive psychology/human factors research.  In training, reaching automaticity means reaching the state where very little attention is required–in this case, attention to where the button is located on the keyboard.  That is how, with extensive practice, some people can become extremely quick soft keyboard typists.

Consistently mapped situations, where the keys remain in the same position, in the same size, encourage automaticity (more or less) while variably-mapped situations discourage automaticity (performance is “controlled”).  When automaticity is reached, performance feels effortless and automatic (think of tying your shoe).  However, in VM situations, performance never reaches automaticity and always feels very effortful.

I wonder if the purported benefits of this configuration outweigh the possible variably-mapped fiasco…it’s an empirical question!  (i.e., someone should do a study).

For more on the CM/VM and automatic/controlled processing in attention, please see this Google Scholar link to just some of the relevant papers.  Note that some of them are quite technical and may require a background in cognitive psychology.

[via Lifehacker]

Stirring the pot… with a saw

If you’ve seen video of the SawStop, you remember it. A table saw spinning at full power that can stop and drop away if it comes in contact with a finger. If you haven’t seen the video, I suggest a watch.

Clearly, the SawStop comes in above warnings in the hierarchy of hazards. Design out (hard to do with a table saw), guard, then warn. It was for this reason I posted on the SawStop a while ago. Reading about the SawStop is one of my hobbies. I’m fascinated that what appears to be such a great idea and improvement is so controversial in so many ways.

Today I read an article mixing law, money, and human factors about the SawStop. A man sued another table saw company because they did not include this safety technology. The law and money enter the equation because the SawStop is patented, so anyone who wants to include the technology has to pay for it. The original news article can be found here.

What do you think? If a new safety measure is clearly better than current safety methods, is a company required to use it?

Does anyone know of other similar examples from the home “code” laws, such as what kinds of wires must be used in a home or other potentially patented technologies?

“Sully” Sullenberger to Speak at the HFES 2010 Conference

I received word today that Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger will give the keynote address at the 2010 Human Factors and Ergonomics Conference in San Francisco this October.

Not only am I excited to hear him speak, I am excited because he is the perfect choice for a Human Factors audience: he has spoken publicly on interface and instruction issues in aviation and should have an interesting take on responding to an emergency in the midst of a complex task (albeit one he was well-trained for).

Check out this clip of him on The Daily Show, where he talks about the disconnect between design for everyday use versus emergency use when referring to tabs on emergency manuals. The HF starts right at 3 minutes.

Here is a 3-D recreation of the flight complete with audio tape.

I often use this clip in presentations when discussing expert performance.

Photo credit Jim Davidson

Personas & Windows Phone 7; Apple Mouse Fix

Two unrelated posts; both usability-related:

  • I’m sure that Microsoft has used personas in design and evaluation before, but have they advertised it so broadly–even bragged about it?  I think one of the major benefits of personas is that it focuses development (and evaluation) reducing feature creep; something that the old Windows phones were definitely guilty of [Engadget].
  • This third-party “fix” for Apple’s Mighty Mouse is simple and interesting.  Is the original mouse a case of form over function? [Switched]

Magic Mouse Fixed from mmfixed.com on Vimeo.

(Post image from Engadget).

Doctors Visits Decrease With Electronic Health Records/E-mail

A study that show that the use of electronic health records (with built-in secure messaging capabilities) can reduce the number of office visits for patients that do not need them.  Office visits are the most expensive form of health care delivery (as noted by the NYT).  No mention of any usability issues, however.

Information about KP HealthConnect (the EHR examined in this study) can be found here.

From the abstract:

We examined the impact of implementing a comprehensive electronic health record (EHR) system on ambulatory care use in an integrated health care delivery system with more than 225,000 members. Between 2004 and 2007, the annual age/sex-adjusted total office visit rate decreased 26.2 percent, the adjusted primary care office visit rate decreased 25.3 percent, and the adjusted specialty care office visit rate decreased 21.5 percent. Scheduled telephone visits increased more than eightfold, and secure e-mail messaging, which began in late 2005, increased nearly sixfold by 2007. Introducing an EHR creates operational efficiencies by offering nontraditional, patient-centered ways of providing care.

From the full text:

The 26.2 percent reduction in office visits indicates greater efficiency of care with an integrated EHR. With complete patient data available, unnecessary and marginally productive office visits are reduced or replaced with telephone visits and secure e-mail messaging supported by easy access to patients’ medical records. For example, doctors reported that the EHR enabled them to resolve patients’ health issues in the first contact or with fewer contacts. In sum, our study strongly suggests that an integrated and comprehensive EHR shifts the pattern of ambulatory care toward more-efficient contacts for patients and providers while at least maintaining quality of care and patient satisfaction.

[Health Affairs via the New York Times, thanks to Margaux for sending it in]

[Ed: the post image is a generic EMR/EHR and is not the system examined in the study]

Exit Signs Across Cultures

Slate.com has a nice article on the difference between U.S. exit signs and the rest of the world, as well as a nice history of the evolution of the symbols.  Here is an excerpt to get you interested:

The text-based American exit sign has its origins in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, a blaze in a downtown Manhattan garment factory that killed 146 workers. Although signage was not primarily to blame for those fatalities—many factory doors were bolted shut in an effort to keep employees from slipping out—the exits were not clearly marked. That massive loss of life spurred the National Fire Protection Association, which had been founded in 1896 by insurance companies to develop protocols for property preservation, to take up what it called “life safety”: the business of getting people out of burning buildings intact. In the 1930s and ’40s, the NFPA developed criteria for emergency-exit signage, evaluating contrast levels and testing different sizes and stroke widths for lettering, eventually publishing standards that were adopted by state and local governments across the land.

Complex Clickers in Class

I will be teaching general psychology to a large undergraduate class this Fall.  I had planned on using the “Clicker” to encourage interaction with students (link to company that makes them, wikipedia page that describes them).  They are essentially remote controls that allow the instructor to record votes from students.  For example, I could present a multiple choice question to the class, have them vote with their clicker, and let them immediately see the results.

It appears that there is a debate raging as to how complex and multi-function these devices should be.  I am on the side of ultra-simple, especially if they are used for quizzes or tests.  The arguments for more complex devices seems hollow; tending towards, “they have to carry around another device,” to basically suggesting that users expect more functionality/complexity.

Some professors like Dubson endorse simple, straightforward devices that stick to multiple choice questions. Others embrace fancier models or newer applications for smart phones and laptops that allow students to query the professor by text or e-mail during the lecture or conduct discussion with classmates — without the cost of purchasing a clicker.

Those preferring simplicity say pared-down remotes reduce distractions in a multitasking world, while others say fighting the march to smart phones and digital tablets is a losing battle.

(post image from the New York Times)

HF Potpourri

Human Factors Blog @ SXSW

Anne was invited to be a panelist at SXSW on Friday, March 12 at 05:00 PM.  SXSW is a yearly music, movie, and interactive media festival held in Austin, TX.  The title of the interactive panel is With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: The Future of Video Games. Here is a description:

Video games are more popular than ever, and new games are delivering all kinds of social benefits, from video-game therapy for treating PTSD, to sims for train surgeons, to alternate-reality games that actually bring people together in real life. Will video games be a positive force for people and society in the future (as they arguably are today)? This panel is co-sponsored by Discover Magazine and the National Science Foundation.

Take a look at the event page for more information on the other panelists.  If you happen to be there, drop by and say hello.

She promises to document as much HF-relevant aspects of the conference as possible.  Here are just some of the talks she’s planning on attending:

  • History of the button
  • Long distance UX
  • Is the brain the ultimate computer interface?
  • mind control: psychology for the web
  • what guys are doing to get more girls in tech social gaming: lessons from the pioneers
  • products vs users: who’s winning
  • games for good

Making virtual worlds more accessible – a new context area for Human Factors

The Consumerist blog (of Consumer Reports) posted an article on the state of California suing Sony because their online Playstation services were not accessibly designed.

Quoted from The Consumerist post:

At the crux of the plaintiff’s failed case was their contention that, because PlayStation allows people all over the world to connect and play games together via their now-repaired PlayStation Network, that virtual world constitutes an actual public accommodation. And as such, it would need to be in compliance with the Disabilities act.

In their filing, they pointed to games like World of Warcraft, which does have adjustable settings for players with impaired eyesight.

As we’ve repeated before, this won’t (and shouldn’t) be a matter of changing font size. Accessibility in virtual worlds will include rethinking:

  • input devices
  • communication methods between persons (verbal, textual, graphical, physical)
  • communications from and to the world
  • time allowed for decisions
  • sound levels and environmental noise
  • screen interface design

…just to name a few.

Concern for individual experiences in virtual space has already begun. Check out Accessing Second Life: Universal Design in a Virtual World and work by Shari Trewin and colleagues.