Category Archives: usability

Intuition vs Experience with Roundabouts

Some people might say a traffic circle is obvious. There is only one way to go.. who yields might be more difficult, but at least we are all driving in the same direction.

Not so.

The following two articles come down on the side of experience for the usability of roundabouts.

New Traffic Circle Causes Confusion

Death-crash car launches off the road and into a first floor flat

I am sure the designers believed that if millions of people in London and hundreds of thousands in New Orleans can handle a roundabout, these citizens of a town so small they don’t even bother to mention where it is would do fine.

Facebook privacy issue may be a usability issue?

I am not on the Facebook wagon but I found the controversy over Facebook’s Beacon interesting. Users were inadvertently displaying their online purchases to their friends on Facebook. Facebook claims that users could opt-out of showing this information but many users said it was not obvious. Here are some before and after screenshots [from the NYT blog entry]:

BEFORE [note the very faint X on the right]:

americangangster533.jpg

AFTER [note the word remove after the X]:

epicurious533.jpg

[link]

Why Human Factors is more than providing safety equipment

The new math and physics building is going up outside my window at North Carolina State. I see the workers out there each day, and as the building gets higher they are obviously required to don different safety gear.

The fuzzy picture below shows two workers on the top level (7th floor) and the green highlight is my outline of the full body harness and safety cord the man is wearing. Indeed, it seemed necessary as whatever tool he is using seems to push him off balance with every use (some sort of nail gun?)

workers.jpg

However. Unlike the man behind him, this worker has not attached his safety cord to anything. It merely drags along behind him as he walks around the platform and crawls in and out of the scaffold. In fact, it seems to get in his way when the clasp on the cord catches on the corrugated surface of the platform.

Legal Interpretations can be the Bane of Good Human Factors

Verizon wireless interpreted an accessibility requirement to require they trigger a notification when the user dials 911. Verizon chose to do this audibly… exactly what you DON’T want when you’re calling the police during an emergency!

“The tone our customer experienced is our interpretation of Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act calling for a provider of telecommunications service to offer service that is accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities. The tone, indicating that 911 has been dialed, is one of several features designed to make wireless service is accessible and easy to use, especially for those with disabilities. Other features include a voice command key where customers can use their voice to dial by name or number; a voice echo feature so that a person who can’t see can hear the number or letter if sending a text; read back text messages and speech output of signal strength, battery strength, missed calls, voicemail, roaming, time and date.”

Read the full news article here.

Perhaps there was no time for use cases or personas. “Debbie sees 4 masked men breaking into her home. Trapped, she hides in the closet and dials…. oh. Wait, guys. I think we have a problem.”

Another precient post

The multiple monitor post made me think of something I read yesterday. This is from The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman in 1988.

“Would you like a pocket-size device that reminded you of each appointment and daily event? I would. I am waiting for the day when portable computers become small enough that I can keep one with me at all times. I will definitely put all my reminding burdens upon it. It has to be small. It has to be convenient to use. And it has to be relatively powerful, at least by today’s standards. It has to have a full, standard typewriter keyboard and a reasonably large display. It needs good graphics, because that makes a tremendous difference in usability, and a lot of memory – a huge amount, actually. And it should be easy to hook up to the telephone; I need to connect it to my home and laboratory computers. Of course, it should be relatively inexpensive.”

When Norman wrote this, the “first PDA” had been on the market 4 years. Though armed with a full (though alphabetic) keyboard, it hardly fulfilled Norman’s ideals.

Today, of course, even the technologicaly challenged own one of these, only differing in that it IS a phone rather than having to hook it to one:

treo

One thing I find interesting: the device above fits Norman’s functional desires to a T. However, if there is anything that still needs usability improved… it is the cell phone.

And if there is anything that needs it more than a cell phone, it’s anything combined with a cell phone.

iphone usability

I apologize in advance for posting news about the iphone…but apparently, Perceptive Sciences (a usability firm in TX) concluded that the iphone has better usability than the Nokia N95 or HTC Touch

Everybody will have an opinion, but what’s need is something more objective and definitive. So an expert in the field — Perceptive Sciences, an Austin, Texas-based usability consulting firm — was asked to examine and compare the iPhone and two competitors.

The results of its tests were unequivocal: While the iPhone is not the most feature-rich device, this group of experts found that when it comes to usability, iPhone does, indeed, live up to its hype.

Fast Food Wednesday

I was browsing the nutrition information for Moe’s the other day and was struck by the uniqueness of their interface. It let’s you specify exactly what you order, exactly how you order, at their restaurant. Give it a try (click on “Nutrition” in the menu at bottom.) This is obviously an interface for those who need to know just how many calories are in those jalapeno bits.

moes

As an informal comparison, check out these interfaces from Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and Burger King. They all make assumptions, perhaps correct, about their users. For example, it was pointed out to me that taco bell makes sure it’s easy for you to have more than one of the same item (since that’s how people order… two soft tacos, please).

tacobell

McDonald’s seems to think that importing the same table they provide in-restaurant is the way to go.

mcd1

Burger King pretends to be novel, with the “big book of nutrition”, but exploration of any item eventually turns up a table.

bk1

bk2

It does seem to be the most parental of the sites, offering as many tips on how to eat as telling you what they serve.

These interfaces are so rich with both good and bad human factors, I can’t possibly cover it in one post. Let us know your favorites!

never blame the user…

[heard about it on NPR, Seattle-Post story]

Around 9 p.m., the man was in line at a self-service checkout stand, ready to buy a pry bar and a hacksaw, according to a Seattle police report.

But, as a manager told an officer, the man accidentally hit the button on the computer screen for Spanish.

That was the tipping point for this consumer.

He became “frustrated that the machine was speaking Spanish,” the police report says.

So, instead of asking for help, he let loose a blow with the pry bar and shattered the computer. He ran from the store and made a beeline to some railroad tracks, the report said.