Tag Archives: aging

Tag-based interfaces and Aging

I was recently interviewed by our campus news service about receiving a Google Research Award to study information retrieval and aging. The research involves designing information retrieval interfaces around the capabilities and limitations of older adults (those age 60 and above). Here is a snippet from the press release:

Richard Pak, an assistant professor of psychology, has received a $50,000 gift from Google to study how older adults navigate the Web and what Web site design features make searches easier. The grant will fund an extension of his research on aging and technology.

“The findings are that when you take a Web site and organize it hierarchically — like how you might organize your documents on your computer with folders within folders — older adults are much slower and make more errors when they are searching for information compared to younger adults,” Pak said. “We think that this is the case because the situation does not allow older adults to use their greater knowledge toward the situation. However, when you take that same Web site and organize it around keywords or concepts instead of folders, older adults are able to bring their wealth of general knowledge to the situation and perform almost equivalently to younger adults in the task.”

That is, older adults seem to perform better using so-called “tag-based sites,” which are Web sites that organize their information around frequently used keywords. Pak said that while tag-based sites are still relatively new, several popular sites use tags. These include Amazon.com, Gmail.com, and the photo sharing Web site Flickr.com.

The recently published paper, “Designing an information search interface for younger and older adults” appears in the latest issue of the journal Human Factors.

Everything in, Garbage out!

But where? Well, that probably depends on where you live. I ran across this post on the Freakonomics Blog (part of the NY Times) bemoaning the difficulty of sorting recycling in Germany*.

We have four different containers in front of our building: paper (blue), packaging (yellow), biological (green), and the rest (gray) — and that doesn’t include the containers for three different kinds of glass (green, brown, and old) at the local park.

Japanese recycling station

We are confused about what goes where and spend lots of time transferring refuse from one container in our apartment to another before deciding where to throw them outside. We’re probably right most of the time — and the additional sorting beyond what we do in the U.S. (where we only have garbage, paper, and glass/plastic containers) does reduce the negative externalities to the environment.

At the same time, the transactions costs of garbage sorting here are substantial, and I wonder if they can be justified by the environmental improvement that results. Our time has value, and that is being ignored.

Oddly enough, over the weekend I talked with a recent German transplant bemoaning the American recycling system as being too confusing because there wasn’t a separate container for each category of garbage. (He specifically wanted a place to put leftover foodstuffs rather than just in the regular trash.) If you think about it, it does take general knowledge and specific experience to put “plastic coated cereal box” and “chicken trimmings” together in a container. Both cultures believe the unfamiliar system slows them down.

Of course, there are still other examples of cultural recycling conventions. In Japan you must divide your garbage into burnable, non burnable and recyclable items. But don’t worry, you don’t have to rely on your own opinion for what is burnable or not (my father puts plastic soda bottles in the “burnable” category, for example):

The exact definition of what is burnable, non burnable and recyclable depends on the municipality.

I would be willing to bet the Japanese make signs in their home to hang above the garbage as a checklist of what to recycle… just like I finally did for Raleigh, North Carolina.

*I wonder if they did a card sort to come up with the categories of items for each bin.

Human Factors Journal Celebrates 50 Years With Special Issue Highlighting Pivotal Research and Applications

The journal, Human Factors, is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a retrospective of some pivotal research and areas. To celebrate, the entire issue is available online for free. Some highlights:

  • The Split Keyboard: An Ergonomics Success Story
  • The Role of Expertise Research and Human Factors in Capturing, Explaining, and Producing Superior Performance
  • Multiple Resources and Mental Workload
  • Putting the Brain to Work: Neuroergonomics Past, Present, and Future
  • Discoveries and Developments in Human-Computer Interaction
  • Aging and Human Performance

Human Factors and Ergonomics Society : Human Factors Journal Celebrates 50 Years With Special Issue Highlighting Pivotal Research and Applications

High-Tech Devices Keep Elderly Safe From Afar – NYTimes.com

First thing every morning, Lynn Pitet, of Cody, Wyo., checks her computer to see whether her mother, Helen Trost, has gotten out of bed, taken her medication and whether she is moving around inside her house hundreds of miles away in Minnesota.

High-Tech Devices Keep Elderly Safe From Afar – NYTimes.com

Memory Loss – Aging – Alzheimers Disease – Aging Brains Take In More Information, Studies Show – Health – New York Times

This short article nicely talks about a well known pattern of age-related cognition (that with age comes “wisdom” or knowledge).  The challenge in Human Factors is using this information in design.

“These findings are all very consistent with the context we’re building for what wisdom is,” she said. “If older people are taking in more information from a situation, and they’re then able to combine it with their comparatively greater store of general knowledge, they’re going to have a nice advantage.”

Memory Loss – Aging – Alzheimers Disease – Aging Brains Take In More Information, Studies Show – Health – New York Times

A suit that simulates the physical effects of aging used by Nissan

Carmaker Nissan Motor is using a specialized driver’s suit and goggles to simulate the bad balance, stiff joints, weaker eyesight and extra five kilograms (11lbs) that may accompany senior citizenry.

Associate chief designer Etsuhiro Watanabe says the suit’s weight and constriction help in determining functionality and accessibility within cars by putting young designers not only in the minds of the mobility-challenged, but also in their bodies.

 wwwreuterscom.jpg

Japan aging suit puts car makers in senior circuit | Technology | Reuters

Senior-friendly mobile phone

gillian-003.jpg

Verizon Wireless shows no shame in revealing that its Coupe by UTStarcom ($39.99 with a two-year contract) is aimed at retirees. And when you open this clamshell, you’ll know why. Besides its large, easy-to-read screen, the device has a large numeric keypad.Though the phone has these “senior” features, it still has the mobile utilities we all demand, including a built-in speakerphone, a tip calculator, and T9 predictive text capability for text messaging.

Old Folk Like the Verizon Wireless Coupe

Response to “Paper Kills”

I was reading a lengthy Q&A with Newt Gingrich in Freakonomics this morning, and came across the following:

Q: You discuss a united American front in your book. What healthcare platforms do you think Americans will unite around?

A: “… This system will have three characteristics, none of which are present in today’s system…. It will make use of information technology. Paper kills. It’s just that simple. With as many as 98,000 Americans dying as a result of medical errors in hospitals every year, ridding the system of paper-based records and quickly adopting health information technology would save lives and save money. We must also move toward e-prescribing to drastically reduce prescription errors.

Newt Gingrich is a powerful man. I am glad he is comfortable with and encouraging of technology. Me too! However, I am terrified of the assumption that information technology systems are inherently better or less error prone than paper systems. “Paper kills” is a nice, tight tag line that people are bound to remember. Is it true?

My earlier post on Paper Protocols saving lives and dollars in Michigan says otherwise. So does research in the context of medical adherence. Linda Liu and Denise Park (2004) identified a paper system as one of the most effective tested when it comes to diabetics remembering to measure their glucose.

It is not the material of the system, it is the design of the system that makes it either intuitive, fail-safe, or error prone. Blindly replacing known paper protocols and records with electronic alternatives is not a guaranteed improvement. This is the kind of thinking that brought us the touchscreen voting system.*

“Oh, it wouldn’t be blind,” one might say. I hope so, but a blanket statement such as “paper kills” doesn’t give me confidence. Paper doesn’t kill, bad design does.

I wouldn’t want to end this post without being clear: We need to stop pitting paper against computers and start solving:

1. Under what circumstances each is better

2. Why each would be better

3. How to best design for each. Paper isn’t going away, folks.

 

*The linked article mentions reliability and security without mentioning usability. I don’t want to go too far afield, so I will save my post on being unable to vote on the Georgia Flag (thanks to the compression artifacts present in the pictures, making it impossible to tell them apart.)

References:

Liu, L. L., & Park, D. C. (2004). Aging and Medical Adherence: The Use of Automatic Processes to Achieve Effortful Things. Psychology and Aging, 19(2), 318-325.

 

Usability and Signing up for Campus Safety Alerts

With recent tragic events in the United States, there has been pressure for many University campuses to install emergency alert systems. These systems notify students, faculty, and employees of emergency events via email or mobile text messages.

A few months ago, I signed up to the one offered at my University. Today, I received the following note:

You recently signed up to receive Safe alerts on your cell phone. There is some confusion about the sign-up process and you are among a group of users who did not complete the steps that will enable you to receive emergency messages on your phone. [emphasis added]

Your safety is our paramount concern, so please go to [website] to see instructions to complete the process. You will need to find the checkbox labeled “text message” to receive the CU safe alerts on your phone.

We apologize for this confusion and hope to make the sign-up process simpler in the future.

I thought this was unusual because when I initially signed up, the process did not seem overly complicated. To be sure, it was not intuitive, but not complex either. I was certain that I configured the system to send email and text alerts. I guess I was wrong (along with a few other people).

One thing that makes the system seem so apparently complex is that the system is meant to be a general purpose notification system–not just emergencies. When I log in, I see all of the classes I’ve taught, research groups I belong to, etc. organized into “Channels.” Why can’t the system be just for emergency alerts? Then the sign up process would simply involve entering my email and mobile phone number and opting-in. Instead, it looks like this:

page-image.png

I suppose it has to do with some kind of cost-benefit analysis. Why pay for a system that only handles emergencies when we can extend it to general purpose messaging?

For a future post, I should talk about our new warning sirens (which I cannot hear from my office, unfortunately).

Unintended consequences of technology (more automation induced problems)

Satellite navigation devices have been blamed for causing millions of pounds worth of damage to railway crossings and bridges. Network Rail claims 2,000 bridges are hit every year by lorries that have been directed along inappropriate roads for their size.

I guess it would be cost-prohibitive to put this bridge information into the GPS databases…

[link, from Engadget]