When poor usability costs you your job?

You may have heard that an employee who managed “social media” for Chrysler accidentally posted on Chrysler’s twitter account about *ahem* poor driving in Chrysler’s home city of Detroit. Click here for the original story.

The guy who sent the tweet blames the program he used for multiple twitter accounts. The article calls it a “glitch,” which would not necessarily be usability, but it seems more likely to be a problem with understanding what account a tweet will come from when multiple accounts are accessible.

From the article on WXYZ:

Scott is convinced a software glitch on a program called Tweetdeck led to the tweet being sent out on the wrong account. He says he deleted the Chrysler account from the program, but somehow it still went out.

His attorney, Michael Dezsi, says Scott has a case.

“A simple web search shows a number of other users have encountered the same issues,” Dezsi said.

Action News made contact with a Tweetdeck spokesman via email about the claim.

“We are not familiar with the error you describe–tweets sent from a deleted account–but we normally would try to replicate it to make sure there is no problem on our end (although it sounds very unlikely that this is a TweetDeck issue). If you know the type of hardware, platform and TweetDeck version we could check further,” said Sam Mandel, Tweetdeck executive vice president of business operations.

People like Tweetdeck, though they admit the interface is complex.

This looks like another case where people feel more justified when the problem is a software bug or engineering glitch than when a usability problem caused the error.

New Magazine-like Layout for iPad Users

Just a small programming note:  we’ve installed the new OnSwipe plugin for WordPress that shows a specially formatted version to our iPad users.  The experience is very similar to what you might get from Flipboard (an iPad RSS app) complete with page turning animations.

Let us know what you think!  Don’t forget to try swiping.

I see a very smudgey future…

As the YouTube commenter in the video noted: BUY STOCK IN WINDEX NOW!!!

These concept videos are meant to show how technologies that do not yet exist could be used. Just like concept cars, they show what is possible now but hint at the not-to-distant-future (at least for the company who made the videos). Here are some more:

Knowledge Navigator from Apple (don’t know the date but I saw this in the early 90s). Conversational agents

Starfire: Sun Microsystems (1993), huge displays, video conferencing

Apple Futureshock (late 80s), conversational agents, transparent screens, GUI, gestural interaces

A more recent one from Microsoft showing the future of health:

Another recent Microsoft one that pre-dated the iPad (and I wish existed!):

Finally, one of the most prescient concept videos (almost everything shown in the video is possible now): AT&T’s “You will” concept video/advertisements.

Cataloging the Rights Along with the Wrongs: Angry Birds

Charles Mauro provides a detailed analysis of reverse engineering an engaging interface: the Angry Birds game. For those who haven’t heard of it, Angry Birds is a wildly successful iPhone and iPad game.

The post covers:

  • the usefulness of examining existing artifacts that through their success must contain desirable attributes
  • scaffolding training
  • increasing challenge through cognitive manipulations
  • adding “mystery”  through artistic dadaist elements
  • auditory motivation
  • the importance of look-and-feel

I also enjoyed reading some of the well-thought out comments. An example from A.X. Ian:

One thing I would like to add is the superior level reset in Angry Birds. So many games fail to pay attention to the mechanics by which the user would restart the level (i.e. putting random buttons on secondary screens, unnecessary splash objects, etc.). I do not believe that it is an accident that you can quickly cut your losses and start from scratch before your brain is able to calculate the reward/punishment statistics in terms of continuing the game vs. doing something more productive.

Even in restarting the level you’re still performing a motion that does not disturb the flow. On tricky levels where birds must be all accounted for to hit the 3-star score you cannot fumble your opening shot. The pause/restart action becomes just as essential and sees heavy use. The level reset is wonderfully integrated into the game where you perform an L-shape move. It does not take your out of the game or put random screens with tons of options on it (like many others do).

Here’s the level with the pause/restart slide with dropped opacity to show the path of the finger in red arrows. http://img848.imageshack.us/img848/8531/angrybirdsl.jpg

The final horizontal swipe is not necessary but it keeps you occupied for a split second. From a UX perspective it’s non-obvious to the users, but milliseconds matter and keep them in the game. In sum, it is important for mobile games to have a well-though-out restart function that feels natural and blazingly fast.


Photo credit astroot @ Flickr.com


The Human Factors Prize

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society is announcing the Human Factors Prize, a $10,000 prize recognizing excellent human factors research.  The winner will be presented at the annual meeting in Las Vegas this fall.

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society is proud to announce the Human Factors Prize, established in 2010 by Editor-in-Chief William S. Marras. The prize, which will be presented for the first time in 2011, recognizes excellence in HF/E research through an annual competition in which authors are invited to submit papers on a specific topic for that year. The topic is selected by the editor in chief in consultation with a Board of Referees chaired by Immediate Past Human Factors Editor Nancy J. Cooke. See below for the current year’s topic.

The prize carries a $10,000 cash award and publication of the winning paper in the Society’s flagship journal, Human Factors. The award will be formally conferred at a special session at the HFES Annual Meeting, where the recipient will present his or her work.

This year’s topic is health care ergonomics:

2011 Topic
The topic for the inaugural-year Prize is health care ergonomics. Health care ergonomics is broadly defined to include research at the intersection of health care and human factors. Suitable sample topics include human factors aspects of home health care, the ergonomics of laparoscopic equipment and procedures, patient care coordination, usability of electronic health records and informatics, macroergonomics of health care facilities, and use of simulation for health care training.

Scroll direction, touch screens, trackpads

When we interact with a touch screen, we expect a certain “directness”; that is, if I grab something and push up, I expect that thing to move up.  Like dragging a web page up or down.  However, did you ever notice that on a track pad (like on a laptop), the direction is reversed?

  • Trackpad:  fingers move DOWN, position indicator goes DOWN, web page goes UP
  • Touchscreen:  fingers move DOWN on surface, position indicator (on far right) goes UP, web page goes DOWN

It’s so subtle, perhaps you’ve never noticed it so I made a video:

I sometimes use this inconsistency (position indicator goes down, fingers go down, but screen moves up) in my class as an example of a violation of an old display design guideline called the principle of the moving part.  It suggests that when you have an indicator on a display, it should move in the same direction as the thing it’s indicating.  The touchscreen/trackpad issue is more complicated because you also have an input incompatibility (fingers and display moving in opposition).

The difference between the touchscreen and trackpad is in what the fingers are “controlling”: the screen or the position indicator?

Am I obsessing over a trivial issue?  Probably; this is something that you just get used to.  But I seem to not be alone in noticing this issue.  Apple, in their next version of their operating system, will make trackpad navigation consistent with touchscreen navigation (fingers move DOWN on surface, position indicator (on far right) goes UP, web page goes DOWN).  Fortunately for some users, it is a user-selectable feature:


Profiles in Human Factors: Dr. Elizabeth Blickensderfer, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

This post is from our series of human factors career profiles. Check them all out if you’re curious about what kinds of careers you can have in this field!

Dr. Elizabeth Blickensderfer received her Ph.D. in Human Factors & Organizational Psychology the University of Central Florida and is currently an Associate Professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, FL.

Anne: Hi Beth, thanks for agreeing to an interview. Would you tell me a little about your job and what you like most about it?

Beth: I am an associate professor in the Human Factors and Systems department. I teach 2-3 classes each semester (undergraduate and graduate), and work on various funded and unfunded research projects. For example, I am currently working on two FAA funded projects. The first one is examining human-machine interface issues related to certifying Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) to fly in U.S. airspace. The other FAA funded project is testing the efficacy of a training course which teaches pilots to better understand weather technololgy tools. Some other projects that I am involved with focus on human error in aviation maintenance and weather related issues in Helicopter Emergency Medical Service flights. I also oversee master’s theses on a variety of topics at Embry-Riddle.

One aspect that I LOVE about my job is that I am able to balance teaching with research. I love my students and interacting with them in the classroom and mentoring them as they develop their human factors/erogonomics knowledge and skills. I also love staying involved in sponsored research projects that involve interesting questions about a variety of human-machine interaction issues.

Anne: One of the commenter on our blog wanted to know why people would choose to work in academia versus industry. How did you decide on your career path and what pros and cons do you think there are for an academic job?

Beth: Again, I love teaching and my students. While most jobs involve the mentoring and coaching of junior colleagues, my position in academia allows me even more opportunities to mentor and also to instruct in the classroom. I am fortunate to be a faculty member at a teaching university that also values research. That way I am able to do both. Not all universities have the same culture, however. Another reason I enjoy academia is that I have considerable flexibility in where and when I do my work. This allows me to balance my career with having a family. A potential con to my position at my university is that I do not manage large scale research programs. That would be extremely difficult to do effectively with my teaching course load.

Anne: What kinds of jobs do your graduates, both undergrad and graduate, usually end up with when they leave your program?

Beth: Our alumni work everywhere! A few examples are the United Space Alliance, Rockwell-Collins, Symantec, Microsoft, Northrup Grumman, the FAA, NASA, various organizations within the Department of Defense, Boeing, and the list goes on.

Anne: Many universities never teach their psychology students about the field of human factors. If you had the opportunity to guest lecture to introductory psychology courses, what would you tell them about the field of human factors to get them interested?

Beth: Working in human factors and ergonomics means you get to combine many interests in one field –  you are working at the cutting edge of technology and seeing your work make a difference in the world, all while earning good money!

Anne: That’s true. We can have fun while being practical. So, who was the last speaker that you saw present and what did he or she talk about?

Beth: Yesterday I saw Ms. Anousheh Ansari, a successful engineer and entrepreneur. Ansari established the Ansari X Prize, a $10 million cash award for the first non-governmental launch of a reusable manned spacecraft twice within two weeks. In 2006, she participated in an 8 day expedition aboard the International Space Station. Ansari has published her life story in My Dream of Stars: From Daughter of Iran to Space Pioneer, a book coauthored with Homer Hickam.

Anne: Wow, that must have been fascinating! Speaking of books, what book are you currently reading?

Beth: “The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir” by Katrina Kenison. It is all about treasuring the ordinary, unremarkable moments of everyday life the most.

Anne: So true. Well, here is one last question that I already know the answer to… What are you doing on April 7, 2011?

Beth: Ha! Hosting the 2011 Student Conference on Human Factors and Applied Psychology! All students interested in human factors are welcome, even if they do not wish to present and there is no need to pre-register.

Anne: Thanks so much for your time — I hope the conference goes well!


Background Image Photo Credit: iagoarchangel