Designing Displays for Older Adults: Chapter 3 Hearing (excerpt)

Below is an excerpt of Chapter 3 from our book.  You can read an excerpt of chapter 1 here. You can also enter to win one of two copies.  The book is available where fine books are sold or directly from our publisher CRC Press.  Until January 31, 2011, you can get 20% off the cover price when you purchase directly from CRC Press using this link and this code: 810DE.

Price: $69.95, Cat. #: K10089, ISBN: 9781439801390, ISBN 10: 1439801398

Chapter Contents (excerpt is section 3.8)

3. Hearing
3.1 How Hearing Changes With Age
3.1.1 Pitch Perception
3.1.2 Loudness
3.1.3 Sound Localization
3.1.4 Sound Compression
3.1.5 Mp3s, Cell Phones and Other Compressed Audio
3.1.6 Background Noise
3.2 Interim Summary
3.3 Accessibility Aids
3.3.1 Hearing Aids
3.3.2 Telephony Services
3.4 Interim Summary
3.5 Human Language
3.5.1 Prosody
3.5.2 Speech Rate
3.5.3 Environmental Support
3.6 Interim Summary
3.7 Designing Audio Displays
3.7.1 Voice
3.7.2 Context
3.7.3 Passive Voice
3.7.4 Prompts
3.7.5 Number and Order of Options
3.7.6 Alerts
3.8 In Practice: The Auditory Interface
3.9 General Design Guidelines
3.10 Suggested Readings

3.8 In Practice: The Auditory Interface

The textual representation of the menu shown in Figure 3.7 appears to be a very simple menu, certainly more simple than some of the nine-option menus some companies offer.  However, this menu becomes deceptively complex in an audio format.  Remember, the listener cannot glance back to any part of the menu that he or she misses, and must hold each option in memory while comparing every new option to find the “best” selection to complete the task.

In this menu the user is greeted, and offered a positive message.  What follows should be either an instruction with how to proceed in the system or the most common choice.  Here, the user is directed for a very particular activity – a loan advance (and probably not the most common option chosen) – to visit a website.  The wording of this information is lengthy and confusing and there is little information on how to access the website or what one should do with no internet access options.  This first option sets up confusion and delays the understanding of subsequent options and commands.  However an audio menu cannot be paused to let the user mentally catch up.

The next information is a command to choose an option; however this is not directly followed by options.  Instead, the listener is informed about their privacy rights.  This is another interruption in user expectancies for the system.  This is followed by a very typical menu of choices organized in a way that is useful to the bank.

However, how a bank organizes choices (by departments or their computer system) is probably not how a user organizes them.  These general categories defined by the bank are :  User Account, Salary Advance, Loans, Mortgages, and Other.  If it is true that users think of their mortgage as being separate from a “loan,” then it would make sense to list the part (mortgage) before the whole (loans) to keep users who think of their mortgage as a loan from choosing “loans” before they hear the mortgage option.

A more useful order would be to group the portions of this menu into categories: rhetorical information, instruction, and responsive information.  All rhetorical information (welcome, thanks, privacy, etc.) belongs up front.  Be cautious, however, as lengthy rhetorical information can produce inattention in the user, and they may tune out for the instruction and responses.

The following steps constitute one example of a re-design and testing plan.

  • Step 1: Make a list of all options currently offered or desired in the phone system
  • Step 2: Examine previous phone system data and select the 4 most commonly chosen options
  • Step 3: Create representative tasks for most common options and for least common options
  • Step 4: Recruit older users and perform a card sort with all options. Have users write the expected functions under each option. What kind of functions and information do they expect to find under “Account Options?”
  • Step 5: Compare the number of groups and options within each group to the 4 most commonly chosen options
  • Step 6: Create new interface with top 4 options, with user-defined functions under each option.  Include other top level options under “Other”

Another design recommendation is to include natural language triggered by user responses.  For example, if a user presses 3 or says “Loans,” the response from the system could be “Ok, you said loans, right? Let me get that.” (The system should listen for a “no” at this time).  This allows the user time to think and provides environmental support by reminding the user of the next step.  This is desirable despite the time it adds.

Figure 3.8 Redesign of the telephone menu system

The re-designed menu in Figure 3.8 shows significant improvements over the first system.  This menu offers more options (7), but they are presented in a manageable way.  First, the menu offers voice response and monitors for response during presentation of the options.  If the system thought the user said “loans,” it replies with “That was loans, right?” If the user then says “no,” the system repeats the original menu with a natural language introduction.  “Ok, let me say the options again.  Insurance,….” The system offers an explanation for its actions that prepares the user for a response (and prepares them for the result of their response,) such as “I’ll need to ask you a few questions so I can transfer your call.”

Second, notice that the menu changes based on non-response.  Rather than repeating the same options that produced no response from the user, the interface tries different tactics.  If no voice responses occur, the system offers button press options, but does not clutter the initial interface with these less natural inputs.  Last, notice how the options with button presses change as they progress down the line: the first two options include extra information: “You can say ‘new account’ or press 1.  Quotes press 2.” Then the reminders to say or press disappear, as the user is only interested in the options.  This is a nice implementation of menu simplification via natural language and a good example of how to move from overall context to list format.

The benefits of such a menu are many and extend beyond the hearing chapter of this book.  Such improvements are helpful for working memory, language comprehension, and decision making as discussed in Chapter 4.

Win a copy of Designing Displays for Older Adults

Look what came in the mail! To help celebrate the publication of our book Designing Displays for Older Adults, we are giving away two copies (retail value $69.95 each) to two randomly chosen twitter followers.   If you already follow @hfblog, you’re entered!  If you would like to enter, just follow @hfblog using your twitter account–no purchase necessary.  We’ll announce the winners January 17th, 2011.  Good luck!

Age-related differences in the use of the Internet

One of my major research interests is in how people of all ages, especially older adults (those over age 65) use the Internet (shameless plug for our new book on Designing Displays for Older Adults).  The Pew Internet & American Life Project recent came out with a new survey of Internet usage across the age groups.

A counter-intuitive finding is that while those age 18-33 are more likely to access the Internet non-conventionally, it is a slightly older age group (34-45; my age group) that are more likely to engage in a wider variety of online activities.

The table below shows usage patterns by age group.  Here is the full report.

The Elusive Moodle!

Had to share this funny usability story. Google released the top searches by city today

First on the list for Raleigh, NC was “moodle ncsu.” Topping the list for Charlotte, NC was “moodle nccu.”

Moodle is the recently adopted open source courseware system we (NCSU: North Carolina State University) use. When I use Moodle to interact with my classes, I need to go to http://moodle.wolfware.ncsu.edu/

This link is impossible to remember, as it fits none of the conventions used by other university systems. I always expect it to be:

  • www.moodle.ncsu.edu (nope)
  • www.ncsu.edu/moodle/ (nope)

For example, the library is www.lib.ncsu.edu. The student center is www.ncsu.edu/student_center/.

I laughed when I saw the search results because I personally search for “moodle ncsu” at least once a week! Obviously even frequent users cannot internalize the way it is linked. I suspect that if there were a redirect from www.moodle.ncsu.edu to http://moodle.wolfware.ncsu.edu/ this would no longer be the top google search in Raleigh, NC. I bet the same is true for NCCU in Charlotte.

“Having the Data is not enough” – Visualization Techniques

I do love good visualization. I think animations like this, accompanied by a good story, would serve us well from conference presentations to convincing industry clients.

It is from the “Joy of Stats,” on the BBC (which I’m apparently not allowed to watch due to my location.)

Online Map Readability: A Comparison


Justin O’Beirne presents an extremely thorough and interesting analysis of why Google Maps appear more readable than its competitors. I’ve noticed this as well. It’s one of the major reasons I still prefer Google Maps despite some very compelling features of Bing and Yahoo maps.

One visual trick that Google applies to maps is a localized de-cluttering around major cities.

This is made much more obvious when we view city labels by themselves:

Children and Medication Errors – “Thanks, Mom and Dad!”

NPR had a story this morning about the high number of medication errors children experience and some ideas as to why.

In short summary:

  1. Kitchen spoons are inaccurate for giving “teaspoons” of medicine, and it doesn’t take much to give the little ones an overdose.
  2. Dose instructions are in teaspoons, but sometimes the cups that come with the bottle are in milliliters!

I also remember hearing about the surprising lack of literacy when parents read labels: I’ve seen a video of a woman reading a label that abbreviated tsp. and read it as “Tablespoons.”

Primary source link for the curious:
Yin, H.S., Wolf, M.S., Dreyer, B.P., Sanders, L.M., Parker, R.M. (2010). Evaluation of Consistency in Dosing Directions and Measuring Devices for Pediatric Nonprescription Liquid Medications. JAMA. Published online November 30, 2010. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.1797

Photo credit Rakka

Accidental Activation During Seat Adjustment on Plane

CNN posted this story where a co-pilot accidentally bumped a control while adjusting his seat, sending the plane into a 26 degree dive. Disaster was only averted by the pilot returning from the restroom, as apparently the co-pilot lacked the training to correct the error. From the article:

The aviation agency report concluded that the 25-year-old co-pilot had not been trained in the specific scenario the jet encountered and “probably had no clue to tackle this kind of emergency.”

Fortunately disaster was averted, as this story seems to have all the elements Reason’s Swiss Cheese model of accidents requires:

  • Organizational influences – training, and perhaps design of controls
  • Unsafe supervision – temporary absence of supervision
  • Preconditions for unsafe acts – inadequate experience for the complexity of the situation
  • Unsafe acts – Slip, mis-activation of a control

(These are, of course, guesses based on a short news article — I don’t pretend to know everything about this accident.)

Photo Credit grey_um