He was playing with one of this year’s hot Christmas gifts, a digital photo frame from Kodak. It had a wondrous list of features — it could display your pictures, send them to a printer, put on a slide show, play your music — and there was probably no consumer on earth better prepared to put it through its paces.
Dr. Norman, a cognitive scientist who is a professor at Northwestern, has been the maestro of gizmos since publishing “The Design of Everyday Things,” his 1988 critique of VCRs no one could program, doors that couldn’t be opened without instructions and other technologies that seemed designed to drive humans crazy.
Besides writing scholarly analyses of gadgets, Dr. Norman has also been testing and building them for companies like Apple and Hewlett-Packard. One of his consulting gigs involved an early version of this very technology on the shelf at Best Buy: a digital photo frame developed for a startup company that was later acquired by Kodak.
“This is not the frame I designed,” Dr. Norman muttered as he tried to navigate the menu on the screen. “It’s bizarre. You have to look at the front while pushing buttons on the back that you can’t see, but there’s a long row of buttons that all feel the same. Are you expected to memorize them?”
A very nice main-stream article on the problem of bad human factors in consumer products. In retrospect, I am often suprised how tolerant *I* am of bad design/usability.
If the cockpit of a Boeing 747 were as badly designed as some kitchen appliances, most of us would never make it to Denver alive. Imagine a jet pilot having to fumble around for the landing gear lever because it looks just like all the other controls.
Thankfully, truly savvy designers are finally returning to basic ergonomic principles – simple, comprehensible and intuitive controls that can be distinguished by position, shape, color or touch. Now, if only Bosch would hire one of them.
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.
The following two articles come down on the side of experience for the usability of roundabouts.
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.
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]:
AFTER [note the word remove after the X]:
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?)
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.
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.”
“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:
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.
…or just the Cadillac. I took this video in a rental after the empty soda bottle repeatedly popped into my lap. However, perhaps I don’t understand their users as well as Cadillac does. It could be you should never have an empty drink while driving a Caddy….
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.
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.
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).
McDonald’s seems to think that importing the same table they provide in-restaurant is the way to go.
Burger King pretends to be novel, with the “big book of nutrition”, but exploration of any item eventually turns up a table.
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!