Category Archives: misc

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.

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!

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.

HFES Madness–There’s still time!

The annual Human Factors and Ergonomics Society meeting is next week in San Francisco.  If you’re attending as a presenter (of a lecture, a poster, or a symposium), consider participating in the HFES Madness Sessions!  These new sessions (organized by Anne, Kelly Caine, and me) are short-burst advertisements for your talk.  We’re borrowing this idea from our friends at SIGCHI.

The sessions are:

  • Tuesday at 7am (because of the early plenary)
  • Wednesday, Thursday, Friday at 7:15am

At 25 seconds long, there is definitely room and it’s not too late!  If you want to participate, just send your name and a slide to HFESmadness@gmail.com.

Information about each madness presentation will be posted to a dedicated website and Twitter.

Preparing Your Madness Presentation

To participate, please prepare a single slide in PowerPoint or as a pdf. Your slide will appear on screen for 25 seconds. Or, you can even show a video, as long as it is 25 seconds or less. Feel free to be creative! At CHI 2010, presentations included everything from a research rap video to a limerick that summarized research findings. If you don’t have PowerPoint, we suggest you go to http://www.openoffice.org, where you can save your presentation as a PowerPoint file. If you submit a video, it must be a WMV file and must not be longer than 25 seconds.

Usability Potpourri

HF/Usability Potpourri returns with two recent items.

iPhone Reception Display

Reports from some sites suggest that at least some of the cellular reception issues of the new iPhone 4 are due to improper display of signal strength.  This is a neat HF issue because it involves user’s trust in automation (the display of reception bars is actually a computed value, not a raw meter of actual signal strength), the design of information displays, and properly informing the user so they can set expectations.  Apple is planning to tweak the way in which those bars get calculated (presumably to be less optimistic) to bring user expectations in-line with reality.

From an Apple press release:

Upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong. Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength. For example, we sometimes display 4 bars when we should be displaying as few as 2 bars.

Mozilla Browser Visualization

Next, Mozilla, creators of Firefox, present some interesting visualizations of what users are clicking in Firefox.  As expected, the back button is one of the most frequently clicked items (93% of all users).

Interestingly, the RSS icon in the location bar (the orange square icon used to subscribe to blogs) showed some operating system differences.  Five percent of PC/Windows users clicked it, 11% of Mac users, and about 14% of Linux users.  Indicative of experiential differences?  PC users less aware of blogs/blog readers?

Our own analytics show that the vast majority of our readers visit from PC-based Firefox installations.  As a service to our readers, here is the subscribe link to our blog 🙂

Human Factors Blog @ SXSW

Anne was invited to be a panelist at SXSW on Friday, March 12 at 05:00 PM.  SXSW is a yearly music, movie, and interactive media festival held in Austin, TX.  The title of the interactive panel is With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: The Future of Video Games. Here is a description:

Video games are more popular than ever, and new games are delivering all kinds of social benefits, from video-game therapy for treating PTSD, to sims for train surgeons, to alternate-reality games that actually bring people together in real life. Will video games be a positive force for people and society in the future (as they arguably are today)? This panel is co-sponsored by Discover Magazine and the National Science Foundation.

Take a look at the event page for more information on the other panelists.  If you happen to be there, drop by and say hello.

She promises to document as much HF-relevant aspects of the conference as possible.  Here are just some of the talks she’s planning on attending:

  • History of the button
  • Long distance UX
  • Is the brain the ultimate computer interface?
  • mind control: psychology for the web
  • what guys are doing to get more girls in tech social gaming: lessons from the pioneers
  • products vs users: who’s winning
  • games for good

HF Graduate Programs: North Carolina State University

This is the second post in our 2-part look at some HF programs.  Rich’s post about Clemson’s program can be found here.

The psychology graduate program at NCSU in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S.A, boasts eight faculty in the Human Factors and Ergonomics specialization. This is in addition to the faculty in our sister program in Industrial Engineering and related faculty in areas as diverse as Industrial Design and Education.  Graduates of the program can be found both in academia and industry (e.g., Virginia Tech faculty, IBM, HumanCentric, Dell).

A sampling of the kinds of research we do here:

  • Warnings – when are they appropriate, how to create them, how they can be misunderstood
  • Medication adherence – when do people share their prescriptions with others?
  • Methods of knowledge acquisition for collecting data from experts to be used to create artificial intelligence, training programs, and display formats
  • Designing instruction and feedback for diverse cognitive ability levels
  • Controlling robots
  • Spatial math
  • Visual spatial perception, auditory spatial perception
  • The intersection of technology and human aging

We also have an active Human Factors and Ergonomics Society student chapter.

Our admissions process begins in the fall, when we start accepting applications for review in January. The current deadline for applications is January 1st of each year, but check the website to be certain.

I’m happy to answer emails from prospective students. Let me know what areas you are interested in and I can help connect you with the faculty here closest to those areas.

The director of our graduate program is the best person to ask about admissions and requirements:

Donald H. Mershon, Ph.D.

email: don_mershon at ncsu.edu

The website for the Director of Graduate Programs

HF Graduate Programs: Clemson University

This is the first post in our 2-part look at some HF programs. Anne’s post about North Carolina State University’s program can be found here.

Did you know that Human Factors is not only a fun blog, but something you could get a graduate degree in?  The field is known by many names but they are the same, more or less¹ (for example, Anne and I received our degree in “engineering psychology”).

The degree is fairly generic and is defined further by specialization (for example, human-computer interaction and usability are closely associated with HF but by no means limited to it).  Human factors graduates work in industry (evaluating software/hardware usability, designing), government, and research.

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) website has a non-exhaustive list of accredited programs in the U.S.  Clemson’s HF graduate degree program [link to Clemson’s program, HFES link to Clemson] is the only accredited program in South Carolina.  Anne will highlight her own university (North Carolina State University).  If you’d like to mention your program (or Alma mater, please comment, especially our international readers).

Unfortunately, we probably should have done these posts months ago when students were researching and applying to programs but better late than never!  Still deciding on whether to do the M.S. or PhD?  See this article (PDF link) provided by HFES.  It’s old but still has great information.

Clemson University

Clemson University is located in Clemson, South Carolina which is situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains (in the upper left corner of the state).  The area is known as the “upstate” of South Carolina and is adjacent to one of the largest metropolitan areas of the state (Greenville-Spartanburg area).

The Department of Psychology at Clemson University offers both master’s and PhD degrees in Human Factors.  Clemson’s program is newer than most (established in 1988) but already has graduated several PhD students who work in academia and industry.  The faculty have a wide variety of research interests.  My own interests are pretty well covered by my posts on this blog.

We do not have rolling admissions; instead, applications are accepted yearly and acceptances are made in mid-late spring.  It is probably a very good idea to target people who’s research sounds interesting to you and then ask them if they are taking students that year.

Feel free to ask me questions about the program but the best person to ask is our graduate coordinator:

Dr. Robert Sinclair
Clemson University
Department of Psychology
418 Brackett Hall
Clemson, SC 29634
(864) 656-3931
(864) 656-0358 (fax)
rsincla@clemson.edu

¹similar terms to human factors:  applied cognitive psychology, applied experimental psychology, engineering psychology

Blog is 99% recovered

"Your blog is dead. Just kidding!"

What started out as a small database glitch escalated into a problem where we lost almost all of our December posts.  We’ve recovered most of them (except the newest one) thanks to Google and Bing caches.  Unfortunately, we’ve lost some of your comments on those posts.  Please feel free to re-comment!  Meanwhile, we’ll be tweaking some things behind the scenes.  Thanks for reading.