Category Archives: input device

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:


Automakers: Don’t skimp on the interface!

A very angry but insightful comment about the vehicle electronic interface of the 2011 Buick Regal from an automotive journalist:

Non touchscreen touchscreen: The GM navigation system and the graphics for it are designed with a touchscreen in mind — when entering in a destination, there is a recreation of a keyboard that allows you to punch in your letters and numbers. But, you can’t do that in the Regal.

So, Option 1: Use the clickable iDrive knob that falls more readily at hand. You can click the individual letter icons, but going through them takes FOREVER because you’re scanning one letter at a time across a keyboard icon. Audi and BMW both display the alphabet around a circle, which makes it quicker to program and easier to decipher.

Or, Option 2: Use the dash knob: This allows you to either rotate through the keyboard or move around it up, down and laterally using the multi-directional pad. Better than option 1, but the knob’s placement is less convenient.

Or, Option 3: Forget the knobs altogether and use the voice controls. This works, though it takes a very long time (the playback prompts don’t help) and for some reason, when I tried to use them, it didn’t ask me for an address number. Instead, I only had the option of going to some indiscriminate point on Flamingo Road.

He ends with this scathing comment:

Compared to our Acura TSX Wagon or departed Cadillac CTS, the Regal’s electronics interface seems like someone just didn’t try. When a brand is trying to convince people it deserves to be considered amongst luxury brands, it’s details like these that make a car stand above. The Genesis and Equus seem like (and are) luxury cars because Hyundai went all in.

Microsoft’s Kinect Game Controller

Our friend Tim Nichols was recently featured in a write up in the New York Times about his work with Kinect, Microsoft’s new game controller technology.  He’s a games researcher at Microsoft Game Studio.  Here is what he says about it:

“I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people try and do the moonwalk,” says Mr. Nichols, as he recalls their first, curious encounters with their virtual mimics.

Photo credit pixelfreund.

Blogging APA Division 21: Maximizing Stimulus-Response Compatibility

Kim-Phuong L. Vu was this year’s winner of the Earl A. Allusi Award for early career achievement. Her presentation covered maximizing stimulus-response compatibility to optimize human performance.

Vu reported on her studies of people’s performance under different levels of stimulus-response compatibility. For example, high stimulus response compatibility occurs when a blinking button needs to be pressed. The blinking is the stimulus and the button press is the response. They become less compatible as the signal for pressing the button moves further from the button itself. In the worst case, a well learned response is reversed – imagine if moving your computer mouse to the right moved the cursor left. This would be terribly incompatible, but would be even worse if you were already well experienced with the mouse moving in a compatible manner.

Vu gave some great examples of how stimulus response compatibility is much more than common sense. In coal mining, the controls for a mine transport operate in one direction (a compatible one) going in to the mine and reverse when leaving. When controlling military drones visually (UAVs) or any remote controlled object, the input controls must be reversed when the machine is flying toward the controller. In my mouse example, it is not common sense for a mouse to work as it does — there is no universal compatibility that moving a mouse forward should move it upwards on the screen. Indeed, many flight input devices work in the opposite way, so that a forward movement makes the plane descend. This compatibility was learned, but nonetheless is disrupted when changed.

Dr. Vu is currently an Associate Professor at California State University, Long Beach, and working on incorporating stimulus-response compatibilities in 3-dimensional interfaces.

Congratulations to Dr. Vu on her award!

For some fun reading by Kim-Phuong Vu and Robert Proctor, see their review chapter on the state of our art:

Proctor, R. W., & Vu, K.-P. L. (2010). Cumulative knowledge and progress in human factors. Annual Review of Psychology (vol. 61). Palo Alto, CA: Annual Reviews.

iPad is everything the Kindle isn’t (for my use cases)

I acquired an Apple iPad a few weeks ago and am very impressed with it. Just as background, i’m a PC person (a desktop at work, home, and a Fujitsu P1620 ultramobile tablet, all running Windows 7).  My portable computer weighs about 2.5 lbs but the iPad is a full pound lighter and the battery lasts about 10 hours. Less than the Kindle, but much more than my laptop.

Like my previous look at the Kindle, this isn’t a review, but just some thoughts after using the iPad for a few weeks as an academic. To cut to the chase, it’s everything the Kindle isn’t. If you remember from my post on the Kindle, I loved the e-paper screen but lamented the many limitations, the most severe of which was the inflexibility with note-taking and reading PDFs.

That observation was recently re-iterated in several test trials of the Kindle in academic settings (see my previous post, and the results of another academic trial of the Kindle at UVA).

That inflexibility I mentioned was certainly felt by the students in the UVA trial:

“You must be highly engaged in the classroom every day,’’ says Koenig, and the Kindle is “not flexible enough. … It could be clunky. You can’t move between pages, documents, charts and graphs simply or easily enough compared to the paper alternatives.’’

Koenig learned of the dissatisfaction from a mid-term survey that concluded with two key questions: Would you recommend the Kindle DX to an incoming Darden MBA student? A total of 75 to 80 percent answered “no,” says Koenig.

The iPad, while not perfect, fixes many of these problems.  Navigating the document is fast and fluid and you can view books and PDFs zoomed in, two-pages-at-a-time, or full page.  Note-taking is also very easy and consistent with my usual workflow (marking up documents).  So with that, here are some apps I use frequently for work:


I am generally a pretty paper-less person who scans everything into a PDF.  One of my favorite PDF readers is iAnnotate which not only lets me view PDFs but annotate and then email them:

The application has a PC-based component that will serve your iPad PDFs stored on your computer so you have access to your complete library from your iPad. After you’ve marked up your PDF, you can upload the marked-up copy directly to your computer.


The other app I use frequently is Evernote which is a note application that syncs to a web service.  The notes are then accessible from the web, your mobile phone, or your desktop computer.  Another thing I’ve realized is that the landscape software keyboard (shown below) is surprisingly touch-typeable.  I think I can achieve about 85% of my touch typing speed.



Finally, I also use the iWork apps (Pages, Keynote, and Numbers) but Keynote seems to be the most useful.  The others have very wonky conversion with Word and Excel files.  Keynote seems to handle Powerpoint files adequately:


Online Banking Should Be Easier for Seniors

A new study has identified how poorly designed online and electronic banking is for older users and will seek to find remedies.

From the news article in

The new assistive technology developed by Newcastle and York researchers will be tried out by a variety of focus groups over 18 months.

Some ideas include a wallet shaped foldable display. One half would display recent transactions with dates and amounts, the other half your current balance, as a figure and an analogue quantity.

Monk said other assistive technology devices could mimic the ‘physicality’ of cash. This is important, he said, because many older people work in a ‘cash economy’ and are wary of ATM cards because there is no way to immediately see the amount of money being withdrawn.

From the comments section of the article, showing the need for this project:

I have an elderly relative who has arthritic hands. When trying to enter her pin number at the supermarket checkout, she cannot push the buttons on the keypad hard enough to make the number register. Could they be made more sensitive? Or perhaps replace the keypad with a touch screen? Or something else?

Here is a link to Andrew Monk’s homepage to stay tuned in for the results.

This news story was sent in by Darin Ellis of Wayne State University. Thanks, Darin!

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]

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 on Vimeo.

(Post image from Engadget).

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)