Category Archives: humor

This does not bode well for the on-device user experience…

Gizmodo reviewed the Nook e-book reader from Barnes & Noble. Unfortunately (for B&N), the process of opening the package was so cumbersome, most of the review dwells on that aspect:

In other words, the Nook packaging actually necessitates these lengthy instructions, as ridiculous as they are in their own right. Somehow, Barnes & Noble invented a box that’s every bit as complicated as their product.

Here is the instruction sheet to OPEN the package (via a 7 step process):

Instructions to open the Nook package. Note the toll-free number to call if you have trouble unpacking!! (from Gizmodo)

Another reviewer has even more negative things to say about the package:

Once the sleeve comes off, you are presented with what amounts to a clear acrylic puzzle box: pull of the plastic seal, pop the two parts of the box apart, and then release the nook from the death grip of the clear plastic holster it’s cradled in. I’ll admit, I was getting a little frustrated during the unwrapping, and I couldn’t help but be thankful I wasn’t filming it. Compared to the easy paper zip-cord on the Kindle’s packaging, unboxing the nook would be embarrassing to do live — especially for someone as klutzy as me.

Tabs, tabs, and more tabs…

This post on Smashing Magazine about vertical navigation had me thinking about the book Anne and I are writing (manuscript due this Friday; panicking…I’m a 10 on the Wong-Baker scale).  In one of the chapters I discuss tab navigation.  When I was looking for a particularly bad example of the use of tabs I remembered Amazon’s website circa 2000.  Fortunately, the Wayback Machine had preserved the travesty of UI navigation for posterity:

Amazon's homepage in 2000

There is a grand total of 15 options and they are not really in alphabetical order (they seem to be grouped).  Amazon can’t be blamed–we probably didn’t know as much as we know now (I can’t believe it was a decade ago!).  But browsing the Wayback entry for Amazon’s homepage through the years certainly shows evolution and an iterative process to  reach the current Amazon navigation scheme which eschews tabs almost entirely for a cascading, vertical navigation:

Amazon's homepage today (2010)
Amazon's homepage today (2010)

Do you have any examples of particularly good or bad examples of tab navigation?

(post image:

Encouraging Sanitary Behavior at the Urinal

From reader Scot M. comes this NPR story. To encourage proper “aiming” at urinals, some places are now placing images of bugs so that men have something to aim toward. I’ve seen these at Schiphol Airport as well as my local grocery store bathroom (and I live in a tiny town).

Keiboom in Amsterdam says the original fly idea was proposed almost 20 years ago by Dutch maintenance man Jos Van Bedoff, who had served in the Dutch army in the 1960s. As a soldier he noticed that someone had put small, discrete red dots in the barracks urinals, which dramatically cut back on “misdirected flow.”

Two decades later, he proposed to the airport board of directors that the dots be turned into etched flies. According to Keiboom, Van Bedoff decided that guys want to directly aim at an animal they can immobilize. The ability to use one’s natural gifts and achieve victory over the foe while standing is the key, he explained. Guys, he felt, can always beat flies. That’s why flies are so satisfying.

Smells like more potpourri

The end of the academic semester is upon us in the U.S. so we’re backed up with deadlines which is why we’re having Potpourri again for lunch. But tasty potpourri:

First, a curmudgeonly three-part series on things that give too little feedback or have too few buttons:

  • I just got an iPod Shuffle which uses a system of taps on an in-line remote to control music navigation. I got used to it (see instructional graphic below) quicker than I thought. But the problem is that when I jog, the remote (which is located near the right ear piece) shorts-out as I sweat. My solution: move the controls (for an extra $25…*shakes fist at apple*).
    iPod Shuffle controls are on the earphone wire

    iPod Shuffle controls are on the earphone wire

    Tapstick "case" with integrated controls

    Tapstick "case" with integrated controls

  • I just purchased a lithium battery pack that can recharge USB devices when I’m away from a power source. It has a single button, a blinking blue light, and a confused user. The button controls which direction power flows and the pattern of lights is supposed to tell you status (full, recharging, discharging, error).
  • Charger (my finger is covering button)

    Charger (my finger is covering button)

  • My mouse battery died (yes, THAT mouse) because I left it on and it jiggled around in my bag (I thought I turned it off).
  • mouse3

    I must have missed the feedback that I turned it off!

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, from around the web:

HFBlog at HFES 2009 in San Antonio

We were at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual conference in San Antonio.  This post is merely here to collect our six-part posts on various talks.  These only scratch the surface of what was presented.

Solving Beer Estimation Difficulties

The subtle change in the diameter of a glass can hide large changes in volume. Unfortunately for us, we’re terrible at estimating this, even when we logically know it to be true. For example, a few millimeters at the top of a pint glass equals an ounce of liquid, while the same height measure at the bottom of the glass is far less.

If you’re concerned about getting a “short pour,” you can use a rule of thumb (“Is the liquid more than one finger width from the top of the glass?”) but to be truly accurate you need a measurement tool. Look no further!  The folks at Three Phase Designs have created a pint-glass ruler that will tell you exactly how much liquid is missing from your glass. These informative photos are from their site.

In use.

The Piaget Beer Gauge

For those who haven’t taken or don’t remember their Intro Psych class: Piaget was a child development researcher who studied the errors children consistently make concerning the world around them. He used these errors to define “stages” of development… and one of the stages is represented by errors of “conservation.” Conservation means that an object retains its proportions despite changes in arrangement.

For example, small children think the same amount poured in a tall thin glass is “more” than that amount poured into a short, thick glass. Though we eventually become accurate for these simple problems of conservation, there are many instances (such as the beer glass) where we still have difficulties. See also “guessing how many miles lie between your car and the mountains” while driving toward them.

HFES Conference Part 5: Automation & Trust & Google Maps

During the conference I had a very personal experience with the effects of automation reliability on trust and subsequent behaviors.  First, a bit of background.  There is a large body of research examining how humans interact with automated systems (Global positioning systems, for example).  Human-automation interaction is quite complex; being affected by many factors.

Julian Sanchez (of MITRE) presented a poster at the conference summarizing the literature; presenting how the many variables of human-automation interaction relate to each other (figure 1).  One factor being extensively investigated is the issue of how much the user/operator (you & me) trusts the automation.

Figure 1. Conceptual Model of Human-Automation Interaction

I have used Google Maps on my phone extensively; and in the many cities I’ve used it, it has been a reliable tool for directions.  Since the phone includes a GPS chip, it can track my movements as I walk showing me my distance to my destination.  However, it failed miserably in San Antonio…twice.  First, I tried to find a restaurant near the River Walk and following the directions led me to go almost in the complete opposite direction.  I was so confident in Google we spent 20 minutes walking around until we asked a local policeman for directions. One reason I was confident was that as we walked toward our destination, the phone confirmed that our position was nearing the GPS destination.


The second failure was when we tried to find the Cowboy bar.  Automation researchers would say that I was complacent–I over-relied on the automation which indicted that my trust was not calibrated correctly.  My high level of trust came from thinking, “San Antonio is a big city, it must be fully and accurately mapped…” as well as past successful navigation attempts. This is one consequence of ultra-high reliability systems: the effect they have on users expectations and trust. Ever since my return, I’ve needed to use Google Maps (on the web or phone) and I have found myself very uncertain of the stated locations and directions offered by Google Maps.  I confirm Gmaps using the competing service (Bing Maps).

Sanchez, J.  (2009).  Conceptual model of human-automation interaction.  Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 53rd Annual Meeting.

HFES Conference in San Antonio, Part 1

Anne and I just got back from the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society conference held in San Antonio.  We plan on posting some snippets of posters/talks that we found interesting in an upcoming post.  But in the mean time, here is a panorama of the view from our hotel.


Being in San Antonio, TX, we also visited a Cowboy bar complete with a mechanical bull.  Being human factors geeks, we had to take a look at the surprisingly simple controls used to create such complex movements.  And no, we did not analyze the controls or interview the operator 😉


STFU Usability Protocol

observation sessionI‘m glad that open-source software is taking usability seriously.  I think that not having a good user experience may be one of the biggest hurdles to more open-source adoption (e.g., compare GIMP to Photoshop).  Shuttleworth (of Ubuntu) has a great plan: the STFU protocol.

During his keynote, he extended an invitation to any open source application to submit their software for testing by user-experience experts. The sessions would be recorded for posterity, and the developer would not be able to interact with the user.

“If the developer is in the room, they have to say nothing. It’s the shut the f— up protocol,” Shuttleworth said. “You sit and watch someone struggle with the software that you’ve so lovingly produced.”

[Internet News via Slashdot]