Category Archives: guestpost

Wearable Fitness Trackers: A Comparative Usability Evaluation

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.

trackers

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

Setting goals
Setting goals
wheretotap
What do I tap?
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

    init
    Bluetooth confusion

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. .

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
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.

Apple, UCD, and Innovation – A Guest Post by Travis Bowles

This guest post is in response to the article User-Led Innovation Can’t Create Breakthroughs: Just ask Apple and IKEA at fastcodesign.com

From the article:

One evening, well into the night, we asked some of our friends on the Apple design team about their view of user-centric design. Their answer? “It’s all bullshit and hot air created to sell consulting projects and to give insecure managers a false sense of security. At Apple, we don’t waste our time asking users, we build our brand through creating great products we believe people will love.”

I’d argue that someone at Apple noticed how Microsoft had been building tablets since 2002 and hadn’t quite gained traction. Apple tends to step in and refine the work of others, often picking the perfect moment in time when the capabilities of a technology and users’ willingness to accept a technology intersect. The question of how they choose those moments is hotly debated – if it was more apparent to the world, their competition wouldn’t always be following them into the market, often AFTER pioneering the first generation of the market Apple dominates (see Microsoft with tablets, Creative Labs with the iPod, Xerox with GUIs).

I believe there is a common misunderstanding that User Centered Design(UCD) is asking users what they need and building it. If that were UCD, then we’d just let marketing and sales departments design products with the feature lists provided by customers and, in many cases, that would be a sufficient source of information to drive an evolutionary product design process. However, I would argue that proper full-spectrum user centered design *leads* to revolutionary product designs. The problem lies in the assumption that user centered design is building what the user thinks he/she wants.

Jonathan Ive is fond of a quote from Henry Ford that I use in explaining the differences between customer feedback and user experience research – “If I had asked people what they needed, they would have said faster horses.” I think this sums up the Apple philosophy that they are creating things so new and cool that the future users wouldn’t even know what technologies were available, let alone be able to assemble them into new category of device. The mistake here is believing that the only tool available to the UCD practitioner is asking users “what should we build for you?”

1910 Model T Ford, Salt Lake City, Utah

What Ive ignores is that, although Henry Ford didn’t rely on potential customers to define his product, he did learn about their needs and try to accommodate them. The original Model Ts were designed to run on ethanol for the benefit of farmers who could make their own fuel from the land (as they did for their horses), and they were designed for the simple servicing by owners in the field (as they did their other farm equipment), in contrast to some more expensive competitors. He didn’t ask his users to design his product but he informed his designs by learning about their environment, goals, and needs.

On a smaller scale, I’ve seen failures of this sort during user testing, when some participants will offer direct design advice, proposing that you place this button here, add this feature there. A lot of researchers get frustrated and dismiss this sort of input, correctly asserting that the participant is not here to redesign the UI. I do, however, find follow-up questions on these design suggestions often produce interesting data points concerning user expectations, needs and even mental models of the system. I wonder sometimes if some designers and researchers overreact because they feel their value is undermined when they acknowledge any value in the ideas of potential users.

One last thought I have is that the new crop of development-centric, massively networked products presents new challenges to the value of UCD. Startups have always moved quickly, and they’ve always run the risk of losing a race to release a product if they spend too much time “polishing” their product before an initial release. As a result, user experiences and feature depth were usually poor to start with and improved over time as the user base increased. The major changes in user experience were made while the number of users forced to adjust was still small, and by the time wide scale adoption was realized, changes generally settled into enhancements and logical upgrades (largely speaking software here, but Consumer Electronics also fits).

However, recently, to be successful a product needs to become ubiquitous almost upon release. Between social networks and newly established cycles of technology obsolescence,* there is little time to build up a base of users to try the early versions of your product before widespread acceptance. One might assume this would motivate companies to work harder to use UCD to create good designs before that initial release, but this has not been the strategy applied by the biggest winners. Instead, I believe successful companies are setting out to provide one or a handful of killer features, often wrapped in a barely serviceable user experience, to as many people as quickly as possible. Rather than risk missing out on a key moment, they skip the needs gathering and early stage user research and take their best shot instead. If they are successful and widely adopted, the reasoning goes, they can go back and improve the experience later with direct user feedback.

Of course, this approach runs into a lot of practical issues. For instance, there is an installed user base who may rebel when confronted with change (although if you provide an irreplaceable device/service, people will complain but still be your customer). Additionally, once the company is successful, it has the dual role of providing an improved future experience and maintaining the current experience, splitting resources and attention. For this reason, companies often find it hard to actually follow through on step 2 of the plan where step one is “get customers” and step two is “make product better for customers.” In this phase, iterative refinements of the product design get bogged down in new features, and there is no time for conducting full-spectrum user research.

Based on these factors, I do wonder, outside of giant corporations or products with decade-spanning development (such as aircraft, medical technologies or anything the government watches over), are we likely to see a rapid decline in user research in innovative product designs, and in early product development for most products? My intuition is that we will see an increase in demand for practitioners capable of research, design and implementation, but with less specialized training in user research and user centered design. The only “concrete” evidence I can back it up with is my anecdotal observation that the majority of interesting opportunities for user research I’ve found have been specifically requesting a developer/engineer with the ability to conduct research or complete designs in addition to implementing them.

* Products such as netbooks, iPads, iPods and smartphones are as expensive as appliances we used to expect 10+ years of service from. The average washing machine is less than an iPad, but you can expect the iPad to be out of date in ~ 2 years. People would be up in arms if their washing machines (or even microwaves, at 1/4 the price) stopped performing after 2 years.

Travis Bowles, M.S., is a usability consultant in San Francisco specializing in enterprise software, novel consumer electronics, and web interfaces.

(post photo credit: flickr user raneko)

Kitchen Taskonomy Part 2: Paying Bills (A Guest Post by Kim Wolfinbarger)

In my previous post, I talked about applying taskonomy to kitchen organization. Instead of organizing objects by their name or physical similarity–taxonomy—a taskonomic approach organizes objects by the way they are used.

Today I’m discussing how I used taskonomy to revamp my overly precise but neglected system for paying bills. Paying bills used to be a real chore.  (Yes, I hear you saying that I could solve my problems by signing up for online bill payment. I have several reasons for handling this the old-fashioned way, one of which is my aversion to having money automatically removed from my bank account.)

First, I collected bills from their basket, the checkbook from my purse, and pens, stamps, and mailing labels from the drawer. Inevitably I forgot to get envelopes for the annoying bills that require me to use my own, so I always had to make a trip back to the desk to retrieve those. (I don’t usually pay bills at the desk, since it’s full of computer, but the home-office setup is a subject for a different post.) Simply collecting the materials took five minutes. After spending the next 30 minutes writing checks, I placed the statements in separate files: one for utility bills, another for mortgage payments, one for auto insurance and separate one for home insurance, one for each of the credit cards, and one for each of our investment accounts. But it took so long to file them that I was much more likely to stack them in a pile and file them later. Much, much later. The piles did nothing for my home decor, and when I needed to find a particular statement, it was never with the others. Twice a year, in desperation, my husband and I would sort through the stacks, put the statements in order, gripe about the missing ones which were inevitably the Most Important for Tax Purposes, haul three bags of trash to the dumpster, and consider calling a marriage therapist.

After yet another marathon file-and-shred session, I finally admitted that the system required more time and self-discipline than I had. Just as taskonomy had brought order to my kitchen, I suspected that it would also work for bill-paying. Inspiration came in the form of Marla Cilley‘s book, Sink Reflections. Following her suggestion for a “portable office,” I bought a plastic accordion file with thirteen dividers and a deeper front pocket. In the front pocket, I placed a pen, return-address stickers, and blank envelopes. A smaller insert pocket held stamps. Just behind that section, I placed my mortgage-coupon book and bills to be paid. I labeled the other 12 sections by month. Finally, I wrote on an index card a monthly checklist of the regular bills. Now, when I am ready to pay bills, everything is in one place. I can pay bills at the kitchen table or while waiting to pick up my kids from ball practice. Once a bill is paid, I check that item off the list and file the statement in one of the monthly slots. I never lose a statement, and my husband can find the ones he needs without help from me. At the end of the year, I throw away the statements I no longer need and file the others in the official cabinet.

Like the taskonomic pantry arrangement, this system for organizing bills has worked for over two years. So this January, instead of spending a day sorting and shredding, I’ll be seeking new projects for taskonomic redesign.

Kim Wolfinbarger is the recruitment coordinator and an adjunct instructor for the School of Industrial Engineering, University of Oklahoma. Her research interests include usability, product design, industrial ergonomics and design for special populations.

Kitchen Taskonomy Part 1: A Guest Post by Kim Wolfinbarger

January magazines arrived a month ago, full of the annual list of ideas for organizing your house, life, office, even your car. I’ve been thinking lately about how we organize our workspaces. As Pottery Barn and Ikea entrance us with their coordinated sweater bins and modern snap-together wall-mounted organizers, how often do we ask this most important question: Do our workspaces support the way we work?

A few years ago, Don Norman wrote an excellent article for ACM Interactions titled “Logic Versus Usage: The Case for Activity-Centered Design.” He discussed two different approaches to organization: taxonomy, in which items are ordered by category or name, and taskonomy, in which items are organized by the way they are used. Norman argued that while a taxonomic organization makes sense for libraries and grocery stores, it makes little sense for organizing workspaces.

I don’t particularly like routines, which is funny because I’m an industrial engineer and classical IE involves designing routines for other people to follow. Over the years, I’ve tried to follow various organizational systems, but they tended to fall apart. A carefully alphabetized spice cabinet became a mess when I purchased new spices, because inserting one new spice required moving several others. Kitchen cabinets were organized according to pan size, but I frequently had to move three small casserole dishes to get the big one I wanted. Bank statements and receipts stacked up because filing was easy to put off. Reading about taskonomy  help me identify the source of the problem: The organizational systems I had struggled to follow just didn’t match my use patterns.

When I first purchased this house, I organized the pantry by the common taxonomic approach. Baking soda, salt, and baking powder were grouped together, as were all the vinegars—white, red, balsamic, cider, and herbal. I alphabetized the spices and placed those that would fit in the pantry doors. The others I grouped on a shelf, between the vinegars and the salt. But the shelves are deep and wide, and with nothing to keep items in their assigned places, stuff tended to migrate. Common white vinegar was as hard to retrieve as its gourmet cousins. Spices floated behind the syrup, peanut butter was never in the same place, and the salt always managed to slip into some dark corner.

It was losing the salt—and the 60 seconds it took me each evening to find it—that finally motivated me to DO SOMETHING about the pantry. For my first attempt, I redesigned the shelves. I planned to replace the deep, flat plywood boards with a shallower but more closely spaced arrangement. The shelf heights would be changed so that frequently used items could be placed at or just below eye level. But without the time, skills, or tools needed for the carpentry project, the design ended up in the “someday” file and the salt kept disappearing. Reading about taskonomy showed me that I could achieve the same goals without changing the pantry’s structure at all.

Baking
Spices

For the taskonomic redesign, I arranged the spices and other dry goods by use. I sorted the spices into four groups: Italian (including basil, oregano, and bay leaves), Baking (e.g., cinnamon and nutmeg), Specialty Salts (Nature’s Seasons, seasoning salt, garlic salt), and Savory (e.g., thyme and rosemary) and labeled the shelves in the pantry doors. I was not too rigid about the sorting–garlic powder, for example, is next to garlic salt–and the divisions are not particularly fine. Because the door shelves hide the labels on the smaller spice jars, I also wrote names on the lids. Each shelf has enough space to add one or two more jars, and because I can see all the jars on one shelf at a glance, alphabetizing is no longer necessary.

Baking basket

I used shallow baskets to sort other ingredients by use. The baking basket contains salt, pepper, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon-sugar. I often use several of these items in a single recipe, such as pancakes or cinnamon biscuits, so it makes sense to group them together. The basket also prevents the salt from migrating, saving me time and frustration each evening. In another basket (out of reach of my young children) I placed spicy blends and specialty peppers, such as cayenne. A third basket, placed toward the back of the shelf, holds rarely used seasonings, such as poppy seeds and dill.

Bottled items

Bottled items were separated by frequency of use. Soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, cooking spray, a small bottle of white vinegar, and olive oil now stand on a lazy susan at the front of a shelf, while lime oil, Karo syrup, and Liquid Smoke occupy a back corner. Bulk-sized bottles are stored on the floor and are used to refill the smaller containers.

Cabinet

Next I tackled the kitchen cabinets. Bulky Items that I use infrequently–roasters, the Bundt muffin tin, my beautiful but heavy enameled cast-iron Dutch ovens–got their own shelf in the garage.

I kept a few toast pans and cookie sheets in the kitchen and sent the extras to the garage as well. Casserole dishes used multiple times a week were moved to front of the cabinet and stacked no more than three pieces high. Retrieving the 13-by-9-inch dish now requires only a slight bend, rather than a deep squat and a minute of moving and restacking smaller dishes. And my silicone baking-sheet liners, which are indispensable but awkward to store, were rolled up and slipped into paper-towel tubes.

I’m happy to report that the taskonomic kitchen organization system has been in place for two years. While occasionally straightening is needed, a pantry spruce-up no longer requires an afternoon. The cabinets won’t be featured in House Beautiful, but the things I use most often stay accessible, without much intervention from me.

Next time, I’ll talk about my simplified bill-paying system. Until then, as you organize your pantry and cabinets, don’t just sort and stack. Design a sustainable system by viewing your workspaces throughout the lens of taskonomy.

Kim Wolfinbarger is the recruitment coordinator and a PhD candidate in the School of Industrial Engineering at the University of Oklahoma. Her research interests include driver behavior, intelligent transportation systems, and design for aging. She is a member of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society and the Institute of Industrial Engineers.

Facebook and Privacy: A Guest Post by Kelly Caine

Many of my friends have threatened to leave Facebook because of their concerns over privacy, but for the first time, this week one of them actually made good on the threat.

In his “Dear John” letter, my friend Yohann summarized the issue:

I don’t feel that I am in control of the information I share on Facebook, and of the information my friends share… FB has total control of (some of) my information, and I don’t like that.

It’s not that Yohann didn’t like Facebook–he did. He liked being able to see his friend’s latest photos and keep up with status updates. The problem was that Yohann (who is, by the way a very smart, tech savvy guy) felt unable to use the Facebook user interface to effectively maintain control of his information.

The root of this problem could be one of two things. It could be that Facebook has adopted the “evil interface” strategy (discussed by Rich previously on the human factors blog), where an interface is not designed to help a user accomplish their goals easily (a key tenet of human factors), but is instead designed to encourage (or trick) a user to behave the way the interface designer wants the user to behave (even if it’s not what the user really wants). Clearly, this strategy is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which from Facebook’s perspective is that users will stop using Facebook altogether if they feel tricked or not in control.

A more optimistic perspective is that the problem of privacy on Facebook is a human factors one: the privacy settings on Facebook need to be redesigned because they are currently not easy to use.  Here are a few human factors issues I’ve noticed.

Changes to Privacy Policy Violate Users’ Expectations

Facebook’s privacy policies have changed drastically over the years (The EFF provides a good description of the changes and Matt McKeon has made a very nice visualization of the changes).

Users, especially expert users, had likely already developed expectations about what profile information would be shared with whom. Each time Facebook changed the privacy policy (historically, always in the direction of sharing more), users had to exert effort to reformulate their understanding of what was shared by default, and work to understand how to keep certain information from being made more widely available.

Lack of Feedback

In general, there is very little feedback provided to users about the privacy level of different pieces of information on their Facebook profile. For example, by default, Facebook now considers your name, profile picture, gender, current city, networks, friend list, and Pages to all be public information. However, no feedback is given to users as they enter or change this information to indicate that this is considered public information.

It is unclear what is public and non-public information

While Facebook did introduce a preview function which shows a preview of what information a Facebook friend would see should they visit your profile (which is a great idea!), the preview function does not provide feedback to a user about what information they are sharing publicly or with apps. For example, you can’t type “Yelp” into the preview window to see what information Facebook would share with Yelp through Facebook connect.

You cannot preview what information Facebook shares with sites and apps

No Training (Instructions)

Finally, Facebook does not provide any training and only minimal instructions for users on how to manage privacy settings.

Solutions

Fortunately, there are some relatively simple human factors solutions that could help users manage their privacy without writing their own Dear John letter to Facebook.

In terms of user expectations, given the most recent changes to Facebook’s privacy policy, it’s hard to imagine how much more the Facebook privacy policy can change. So, from an expectations standpoint, I guess that could be considered good?

In terms of interface changes to increase feedback to users, Facebook could for example, notify users when they are entering information that Facebook considers public by placing an icon beside the text box. That way, users would be given immediate feedback about which information would be shared publicly.

Globe icon indicates shared information

Finally, in terms of training, it’s fortunate that a number of people outside of Facebook have already stepped up to provide users instructions on how to use Facebook’s privacy settings. For example, in a post that dominated the NYT “most emailed” for over a month Sarah Perez explained the 3 Facebook settings she though every user should know after Facebook made sweeping changes to their privacy policy that dramatically increased the amount of information from a profile that is shared publicly. Then, after the most recent changes (in April 2010) Gina Trapani at Fast Company provided easy to use instructions complete with screen shots.

Perhaps if Facebook decides to take a human factors approach to privacy in the future, Yohann will re-friend Facebook.

Kelly Caine PhD is a research fellow in the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University. Her primary research interests include privacy, health technology, human factors, hci, aging, and designing for special populations.

(post image from Flickr user hyku)

Electric Scooters and their Warnings: A Guest Post by Kim Wolfinbarger

Electric shopping carts are common in large grocery stores. Essential for users with mobility impairments, they are also helpful for pregnant women, elderly shoppers, and other who have trouble walking long distances.

A few months ago, my grandfather overturned such a cart in a parking lot and broke his hip. Interested in what might have caused the accident, I examined a similar cart at my local store.

in-storeWhile the cart appeared stable, red-and-white signs affixed to the inside and outside of the basket read, in large letters, “IN-STORE USE ONLY.” Two others warned, “INTENDED FOR USE INDOORS ON LEVEL SURFACES ONLY!” and “DO NOT TAKE THIS CART OUTSIDE THE STORE.” An instruction manual I found online had similar statements in several places.

instructionsHere is the problem: A customer who uses the cart while shopping will surely want to use it when taking groceries to the car. My grandfather lived independently and drove himself to the store, but rheumatoid arthritis made walking difficult. Using an electric cart made it possible for him to do his own shopping. While he most likely saw the warning, he may have dismissed it as a statement written to merely to discourage lawsuits. (This is speculation–he could not converse following the accident and died a few weeks later–but it is consistent with his personality.)

Clearly the manufacturer had anticipated that people would use the carts outside and thought this behavior might be hazardous.  But did the store share this concern? Since the cashier loaded the bags into his cart following the purchase, it appears that, despite the warning, the store expected him to drive the cart to the parking lot.

warning

The signs and repeated warning statements in the manual suggest a mismatch between the design of the product and the expected behavior of users. So how should the problem be addressed?

  • If the carts are truly not stable outdoors, stores should not allow them to be driven into the parking lot. Instead, employees should carry out groceries for all customers who use a motorized cart.
  • Offering the service is not enough; some customers, not wanting to be a bother, will refuse assistance if asked. Instead, when the cashier begins checking out a customer with an electric cart, she should immediately summon a worker to load the groceries into a push cart and take the groceries to the customer’s vehicle.
  • Manufacturers should assume that customers will take electric carts outdoors and design them accordingly. Motorized scooters intended for outdoor use are widely available.
  • If they have not already done so, shopping cart manufacturers should implement similar stability features.  As human factors engineers have said for years, a warning is no substitute for good design.
  • Good warnings tend to have a “why” that informs the user about the hazard when that hazard is not immediately obvious. If you though the reason to keep the cart indoors was because you might be hit by a car, your decision to take the cart outdoors could be different than if you knew the cart were unstable.

Kim Wolfinbarger is the recruitment coordinator and an adjunct instructor for the School of Industrial Engineering, University of Oklahoma. Her research interests include usability, product design, industrial ergonomics and design for special populations.