Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Fitt's Law

Fitt's Law is an incredible piece of research and its complete effects have yet to be seen, even today some fifty years after this paper was first published. The Information Capacity of the Human Motor System in Controlling the Amplitude of Movement, as Paul M. Fitts 1954 paper is called, is an astonishing piece of research because even though the paper is completely dry and long-winded, the author conveys a sense of simplicity in the ultimate math equation.

As has been proven to date, this equation has passed with flying colors to still be not only relevant but right. The application of this law can be seen in everyday HCI areas as menu development, icon activity, control panels and anything that deals with human movement and making it more efficent and intutive. I just wish the paper wasn't such a dry read. Alas, we can't always have our cake and eat it, too.

Greenberg & Buxton's "Usability Evaluation Considered Harmful (Some of the Time)"

In Usability Evaluation Considered Harmful (Some of the Time) by Saul Greenberg and Bill Buxton, the authors raise important points in claiming that usability evaluations can be considered harmful some of the time. Just because a research team has a assembled a user group and study doesn't mean that at the end of the day they have a winning design or have done good research.

Greenberg and Buxton argue for the tempered use of usability evauluations, not necessarily the outright outlawing of usability evaluations. This difference in approach to past research authors is refreshing, helpful, and in the end more effective for all parties—users, designers, and the businessmen in between.

Norman's "Human-Centered Design Considered Harmful"

Don Norman's "Human-Centered Design Considered Harmful" gives us an interesting view in how the user might not always be right. There are in fact a lot of things to consider in interface and interaction design, not all of which concern the user. And rightly here the concerns are brought to the fore.

I think the most important takeaway point of Norman's article here is the simple fact that tasks do not necessarily mean valuable user activity. The users activities and desires are not necessarily fulfilled or quantified by the tasks at hand or that the system demands of the user on a regular basis. If there were anything to learn from this paper, it is just that—no task by itself justifies its existence on its own. There must be a reason to why we are doing and interacting as we do with systems and interfaces. There must be reason.

Don Norman does a good job to this effect.

Crabtree's "Ethnography Considered Harmful..."

After reading Crabtree's paper on the "harmful" characteristics of ethnographies, I couldn't help but think about the two ethnographic books we read this semester for the class. While the points raised in Crabtree's paper are valid ones to consider, I find that Ethnography Considered Harmful goes too far as to condemn all ethnographies of every stripe just by its title alone.

Should not an academic paper properly weigh the validity of each particular input and then come to a conclusion. From the onset Crabtree sets out to dismantle the use of enthnographies in any academic setting. This is plain wrong. Simply wrong.

Designers should use and ought to use ethnographies as one of the many tools to come to the solid view of their independent interaction and interface designs.

CHI 2009: The Rotating Compass

Design, Implementation and Evaluation of a Novel Public Display for Pedestrian Navigation: The Rotating Compass, a CHI 2009 paper written by Enrico Rukzio, Michael Müller, and Robert Hardy covers an implementation of a mobile device that used vibrations to direct a users as well as in-world devices to guide users through a staged, mapped area.

Several developments of the research and testing were notable, namely that it was easier to use the syncronized displays or environment only rather than the phone-only or map methods. In the end, the worst was in fact the phone method alone. That leads me to believe that some of the small testing done does reveal one thing: that users shouldn't be overly burdened to use technology to execute simple tasks such as route finding.

UIST 2007: Continuum

I did my UIST 2007 presentation on a paper highlighting the program Continuum. This program, outlined in Paul André, Max L. Wilson, et. al's paper Continuum: Designing Timelines for Hierarchies, Relationships and Scale describes a program that gives a visual view of data in a hierarchical, time-based manner. This program was done in JavaScript to run as a browser plug-in and implements XML for storing its data. The small test group found it more benefical than other similar programs. However, it doesn't look to be that unique or far-reaching.

The question remains how applicable to further uses is the program? It seems their one example of composers and music is well enough, but how truly portable is this implementation? It seems not so portable as suggested by the authors.

CHI 2008: Virtual Currency

Another CHI 2008 paper I did was one covering the social impact of virtual currency in China. “Human-Currency Interaction”: Learning from Virtual Currency Use in China by Yang Wang and Scott D. Mainwaring did a lot to pull back the curtain on virtual currencies in China.

By and large the researchers found a lot of the "realness" of the currencies are attributed by younger people and young professionals. In some cases the virtual worlds dictate a real-world face-to-face encounter, one case involving a transfer in person in an Internet cafe and a family member elsewhere making the transfer. This kind of action is, in part, no so suprising of a psychological case, but the real-world applications of this knowledge are stunning.

See the previous CHI 2008 post for the comments.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Emotional Design

Donald Norman's book Emotional Design is another treatment of many topics covered in his original book The Design of Everyday Things, but from a new point of view—that of a reluctant technologist. He seems to track back over many of his original principles simply because he seems to thing now all things are based on emotion.

Within the book itself, Norman finds time to explain the asthetics he now proclaims--including the design terms dressed in new clothes: visceral, behavioral, and reflective. These mirror (in design terms) the classical ABCs of attitude (affect, behavior, and cognition). He also goes into "emotional machines" and applies these three design terms to them.

While he does go through a through explanation of the changes in thought on design, I find this to be a long based collorary on rehashed points. The whole series of Norman books could have been condensed further. This book could be culled to its focus affect, behavior, and cognition and their effects on design. Ultimately, I was quite disappointed with the text. I do appreciate the updated view on design though. Emotion does matter, and the emotions I have from this book is possibly between Jacques Carelman's "Coffeepot for Masochists" and Michael Graves's "Nanna" teapot. At first it looks like it's self-defeating but in the end (after quite a bit of reflective time) it is another charming Norman read.

Indeed, in the end, we are all designers.

I commented on Ben Carsten's, Tyler Henning's, and J. Chris Elgin's blogs.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"The Man Who Shocked the World" Review

Thomas Blass's book The Man Who Shocked the World, was a thorough biographical view of Stanley Milgram through his years both academic and personal, including world events that shaped him. Blass gave detailed information not only of the famous experiments like the Obidence Experiment during his years at Yale but also the "Six Degrees" of separation, "lost letter" experiments, and even one on subway riders and social interactions there.

The Obedience Experiment, Milgram's most noted and most detested, was one that bordered very much on that of staged theatrics to deliver the unbiased results of such an experiement requires. The subject was teamed with an actor playing the "learner" who was being "shocked." Well, with the firmness of the experimenter's voice, Milgram went on to show how much the human will can be bent if prodded enough. In the dangerous possiblities, it showed essentially how the Germany could be so complicit during World War II, but also how much our society could as well. Some of the study seemed contrived. Namely, how the subjects were rebuffed by the experimenters. In a way, Milgram did not fulfill his ethical requirements to be true to the outlined rules and rights of the experiment. However, when the subjects did remember this, they did become more rebellious.

In all, the book was an excellent view into the man of Stanley Milgram—not only his eccentricies but also his brillance to see something extraordinary in the little things of human action. The book also was a great purview into academic life, and just how difficult academic research can be. He truly did "shock the world" with the stretches that we humans can end up going if probed enough.

I commented on Lei Gu's, Tyler Henning's, George Lucchese's and blogs.

Friend & Foe Paper Review

I did my presentation on the CHI 2008 paper, "Friends and Foes: Ideological social networking" by Michael J. Brzozowski, Tad Hogg, and Gabor Szabo. This paper was as a replacement for the previous UIST 2008 paper's presentation.

The paper essentially did a study of the web site Essembly.com which is, according the authors, "a 'fiercely non-partisan social network' that allows members to post resolves reflecting controversial opinions, e.g. 'Overall, free trade is good for American workers.'" That said, it was similar to the social networking sites Facebook and MySpace, among others. With the social connections, there was a difference in that there were friends, allies, and nemeses on voted upon issues. Their findings were as follows:

In the end, the paper was a reaffirmation of previously held thoughts: (a) that the nemesis type wouldn't be implemented, (b) that there was little voting accept on that of friends, and (c) the allies feature was hardly used.

Posted: Sarah Gray, Drew Logsdon, and Nicholas Harris.