Category Archives: misc

Usability/Design/HF Potpourri



Graph extravaganza: Who are our “users”?

It’s Friday, so here are some interesting visitor statistics of the blog (based on the last 1580 visitors).  I meant to do this on our two year anniversary (two months ago) but better late than never.

First, where are our visitors coming from?  Primarily in the U.S. and Europe with some visits from China.

world
Visitors by Country (click to expand)

Zooming in on the U.S. and Europe:

na
United States (click to zoom)
eu
Europe (click to zoom)

Next, what operating systems, browsers, and screen resolutions are our users using?  It appears to be Windows XP with IE.

os stats
Operating systems
browsers
Web browsers (the multiple versions of Safari could also indicate Webkit browsers like iPhone, Android and Palm Pre)
resolutions
Screen resolutions (unknowns probably represent wide screen monitors or mobile phone sizes)

Finally, when people reach us using a search engine, which one do they use?

search engines
Search engines

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.

sa

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 😉

controls

HF Potpourri

Some interesting items that have passed through my reader:

  • Jerk can be emulated in software.  Cars with continuously variable transmissions sound and behave differently from other cars.  In this video, the speedometer and RPM smoothly increases (in most cars the RPM would bobble as gears shift and you’d feel a slight jerk).  I don’t know how I reached this page but Wikipedia suggests that some companies may emulate “jerk” (what you feel when the car shifts gears) to make the car feel more normal to the driver.
  • Need a quick wireframe for your website? Try Hot Gloo, an online wireframe tool [hot gloo]
  • With the coming wave of web-based health management, how do patients feel about putting so much personal health data online? [Journal of Medical Internet Research]
  • Type is about to look very different on the web [slate.com]

Applied Decision Making Aids in the News

NPR covers ways psychologists have discovered to nudge irrational decisions  in a better direction.

An excerpt:

In the city of Greensboro, N.C., there’s a program designed for teenage mothers. To prevent these teens from having another child, the city offers each of them $1 a day for every day they are not pregnant. It turns out that the psychological power of that small daily payment is huge. A single dollar a day is enough to push the rate of teen pregnancy down, saving all the incredible costs — human and financial — that go with teen parenting.

Most of the article focuses on “economics,” but of course money is only a context for the decisions they discuss.

HF/Design/Usability Potpourri from around the Web

Here are some links to interesting things from the past few weeks.

The Human Factors “elevator speech”

I was in the elevator with someone from our college grants office and a colleague who does research on medical devices and human factors (and is currently teaching a seminar on the topic).

She asked my colleague, “what does psychology have to do with medical equipment?”

After giving her a few sentences about the importance of understanding user capabilities and limitations, she seemed unimpressed and unconvinced 🙂

If you have a more convincing elevator speech for human factors/usability, please chime in! Peter from the daily human factor had a post on this topic last month.

You can now follow us on Twitter

In addition to being notified of new posts by RSS and E-mail, we are now on the Twitter bandwagon!  If you are an existing Twitter user, you can now “follow” our Twitter feed and get notified of new posts.  What is Twitter?  Well, here is what Wikipedia has to say:

Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users’ updates (otherwise known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length.

Updates are displayed on the user’s profile page and delivered to other users who have signed up to receive them. Senders can restrict delivery to those in their circle of friends (delivery to everyone being the default). Users can receive updates via the Twitter website, SMS, RSS, or email, or through applications such as Tweetie, Twinkle, TwitterFox, Twitterrific, Feedalizr, and Facebook. Four gateway numbers are currently available for SMS: short codes for the United States, Canada, and India, and a United Kingdom-based number for international use. Several third parties offer posting and receiving updates via email. Twitter had by one measure over 3 million accounts and, by another, well over 5 million visitors in September 2008, a fivefold increase in a month.

It’s a two-way street, however!  If you direct tweets to HFBLOG, we’ll receive them.  For example, if you have a crazy human factors-related picture or funny story send it our way!

How does one get into Human Factors?

We got a great question from reader Matt:

I’m still unsure whether I want to make the leap into lots of school…and I was wondering if I could ask you about your human factors stories…How did you get into HF/E?…How do corporate and academia differ? In addition to teaching and research, do you or have you done any other HF/E work? What’s a day in your lives like?

Before we show you our responses, it is useful to note that Anne are both in academia so we have only one perspective.  If any of our readers have other ideas, please comment!

[Rich] HF is a multidisciplinary field and you certainly don’t need a PHD in psychology to get into it.  Some practitioners may have no formal training in HF but they might have been in situations where they had to design or evaluate products within their company.  This is quite common.  One thing I might do is look up your local chapter of the Human Factors & Ergonomics Society.  I bet there are good chapters in your area.  Try going to their meetings to see what it’s about–I think you’d be more than welcome.  If that doesn’t work, try getting on the mailing list of the talk schedule of your local college or university.  If they have a psych program or industrial design, or HCI program, they probably have talks that would be relevant to your interest and are probably open to the public.

I got into HF quite late.  I didn’t know it was a field until one year into graduate school.  I then switched into the program (called Engineering psychology at my school).

A typical day is roughly 40% reading/writing/researching, 40% meetings with grad/undergrad students, and 20% teaching.  This distribution would change if you were at a primarily teaching institution or research institution (I’m at a mainly research institution).  I mentor 3 grad students so that takes a lot of time but I enjoy it.  It’s sort of like an office job where you are the boss in a advisory role for the grad students.  I rely heavily on the grad students to help run basic lab operations (running subjects, etc).  It varies with the season, but some days are crazy busy while others are very slow.

And Anne’s perspective:

[Anne] I agree with Rich that a good way to get started is to join a local chapter of HFES. You can find a list at: http://www.hfes.org/web/Chapters/local_chapters.html.

I was a psychology/English Lit major in college and didn’t know HF existed until my last semester when a guy from Brooks Airforce base came in to teach a special topics class. I was hooked. Of course, I’d missed all the grad school applications, so it took a few years before I went back to school. I always assumed I’d go into industry, because I like applying human factors to real problems, but in grad school I started to like the idea of being my own boss and looking into whatever problems *I* was interested in, rather than being constrained by an industry. I couldn’t be happier, but many of our friends and colleagues are happy in industry.

If, after reading all this, you’re still interested in HF as a career, I’d advise taking some psychology classes and applying. Take classes like intro, psych stats, cognitive, and applied psychology if you can… courses in counseling or clinical psychology won’t help you much. There are a number of MS programs out there, if you don’t think you want to spend the time on a PhD.

I’d describe my day the same as Rich. Mentoring grad students and watching them develop projects is the most rewarding part of this job. We both teach, but it’s not a heavy load, so it leaves most of our time for research.