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.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Design of Future Things

In the follow-up of Don Norman's The Design of Everyday Things comes his second book, The Design of Future Things. This book, bounces from point to point on the future of design. The high points of the book include his exploration of the definition of dialogue, automation, and augmentation. He also ties together a good deal from his other books: The Design of Everyday Things and Emotional Design.

I think the most important point that Norman makes in the entire book happens in the first chapter. He relates Socrates' argument that two monologues do not create a dialogue. The two voices, Norman insists in amplifying fashion, must be in interaction. This relates to a whole host of examples in all of social interaction, whether it be human-to-human, computer-to-computer, human-to-computer, or otherwise. In every case, the designer must remember that it cannot just be a force-feeding of information or commands to the user. Latitude must be given in any series of computer interactions.

That said, also the role between automation and augmentation— which Norman brings up in chapter five. I do agree with Norman's interpretation here of automation versus augmentation. Automation should only be used in cases to speed up a process that would normally be labor-intensive if done by a human or one that would be unsightly for a human to do. In all other cases, the computer-related designs should only augment what a human rightfully should do. In this case, the augmentation can be ignored by the human user and thus not cause (or at least limit) the level of annoyance any design might create.

All in all the book was another insightful and beneficial read—save the last wacky chapter which wasn't a requirement to read (though the rules given there were good).

Posted: Brian Salato, Adam Griffin, and Brad Twitty.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pen Rolling Paper Review

I chose for our UIST 2008 reading assignment to read the paper An Exploration of Pen Rolling for Pen-based Interaction by Bi, et al.

The paper was about a series of experiments done around the rarely implemented pen input along the longitudinal axis, specially studies "first on the parameters separating intentional and incidental pen rolling and secondly on "the parameter range within which accurate and timely intentional pen rolling interactions can be observed." The authors were interested in expanding the use of pens to encompass the whole range of uses of mice and keyboards, including scroll wheels, in what they call "pure pen computing."

Some questions that I had after reading this paper included how intuitive was it for the pen to be used as a scroll wheel? And could the incidental pen strokes cause for improper recognition by the system? I feel that these questions raise too large of hurdles for potential full-scale application of these pens, but if something could be created to mitigate the incidental (not too much unlike the Apple Newton case in Don Norman's The Design of Future Things), then there would be great promise in such devices.

Posted on: Lei Gui, George Lucchese, and Brad Twitty.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pay to Play: An Ethnographic Study

I did my ethnography on the new Lot 51 Visitor Pay-by-Space parking area with accompanying parking station kiosks. My observations consisted of plenty of counting and a whole lot more of waiting as it were. The waiting was a necessary setback since parking observations are incomplete unless one stakes out a parking lot for whole day periods, which I did not have the manpower to fully complete. The few observations I completed were from an hour long to a half hour. Even one time, it consisted of a mere surveillance of the lot during the overnight hours to see if anything was out of the "ordinary."

I did learn a great deal and found out some interesting trends in the new visitor parking—and more reasons to not appreciate Transportation Services. Something very interesting I learned was the lengths that some will take to park closer to campus, even for an extra $6 in cost. This was evident in Lot 50 permitted cars parking a lot over conceivably because the walk from the rear of Lot 50 would have taken longer than simply zipping into the visitor spot and paying. An interesting correlation was that these same permitted vehicles had EZ Tag toll tags, indicating a few indicators of possible expendable income or greater ease at paying a little extra for some added benefit (like a closer parking spot to class).

What I also observed was that women had more of tendancy to talk to the machine, that the biggest delay was figuring out their pre-determined time in the parking spot, the biggest overall confusion was whether or not to keep the ticket or put it in the vehicle, and largest flaw of the actual parking station kiosk system was that the ticket dispenser was out-of-view of the user. In fact, on a couple occassions the common user verbalization was "Where's my ticket?"

Some of the biggest difficulties I ran into over the course of the week was just what kind of and how much data we should have been collecting. I understood the concept of an ethnography well enough, but this clarification and deeper understanding would have been helpful from the onset when the initial ethnography assignment was assigned.

Posted: George, Josh Myers, and Lei Gui.

"Never in Anger": A Review

Jean L. Brigg's book Never in Anger was an interesting look in a small group of Eskimos in northern Canada. The book took a thorough—albeit emotion-filled—look into the societal structure of an Eskimo community on the Back River near Chantrey Inlet, spanning her seventeen months there. She didn't complete her original goal of learning and observing pre-missionary religious Eskimo practices, since they had already adapted to the Christian (Anglican and Catholic) missionaries. However, she did effective turn the setback into something positive by continuing her study and focusing on their social interaction instead. As she ended the book, she noted:
I had letters from Back River twice before I left Gjoa Haven in March. Allaq said: "Saraak asks where you are and mistakenly tinks you will come soon." She and Inuttiaq both said: "I didn't think I'd care (huqu, naklik) when you left, but I did (naklik)." - Page 307

Jean's experience in the Far North was a noteworthy one, but sometimes the narrative got in the way of the actual "findings" of sorts. The study was social interaction and emotions after all (there's even an appendix on "Emotional Concepts"), but the ultimate question even in a sociology-based enthnography is how far involved with the subjects should one get. There might have been a tad too much emotional investment by Jean in this regard. All these concerns nonwithstanding, I think the overall experience she had could be summed up with the following words of Jean from page 295: "In spite of all these tensions I was still treated with the most impeccable semblance of solicitude." In the end, they did bear with her, even if she had trouble integrating into their society.

Posted comments: Patrick Clay, Eric Scott, and Jared.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Few Thoughts on the Equation

"Nass and Reeves have spent the last decade working in the area of social responses to technology. We brought them into our team, and they have shown us some amazing things." - Bill Gates, Chairman and CEO, Microsoft Corp.

In the words of Nass & Reeves' Media and Social Roles section of the book, there are a few things left to be uncovered. This book did uncover a great deal of interesting information, but buried beneath a bunch of superfluous text is not a way to crisply deliver something that's supposedly the best thing since sliced bread. It's unfortunate that the study results would be tarnished by a senselessly lengthy read.

The Media Equation, by Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass, was a book explaining the connection between media and people, specifically how little different people treat computers versus other people. There is a lengthy discussion of the aspects of this reality and their exuberant findings (as we are so forcibly reminded without end in the text). These include manners, personality, emotion, social roles, and form. In short, Reeves and Nass explain that there are numerous ways to influence design through tweaks of the expectation of the user and the computer interface. We, as they suggest, have several instincts that influence our actions that only after some rational thinking won't switch over, even things such mundane as stereotypical assumptions based on voices (old or young, woman or man, etc.).

I found the book itself to be completely too long, either it would have been better for the authors to include diagrams or other visual aids to complete the visualization required to process their information (they might've taken their own advice here, in this case) or to have organized the information into more digestible (and memorable) passages than one like the following:
We found no differences, however. The same voice produced the same evaluation, regardless of which machine played it. Moving a voice from one machine to another did not change the identification of the actor making the comments. - Page 176

Passages like the one above, make it read worse than either a good book or a good paper; it confuses between the two. The text itself sleepwalks through the procedures and while there is inevitably provides interesting results, the task to find them makes it incredibly tedious and nearly not worth it.

My favorite portion was actually the chapter on specialists (Chapter 12). The study there was easy to understand, curiously true when brought to real-life cases. Even the line used in the chapter's first paragraph bears credence (or lack thereof, depending on whom you ask) to their theories as to whom to listen to:
All reviews, however, even if positive, are not created equal. A sophomore in one of our classes said that we had told him amazing things about media. But we left his name off the book jacket in favor of a prominent person who had said exactly the same thing. What's the difference between a sophomore and a CEO? And what do the people quoted on the jacket have, even if you don't recognize their names, that others don't? - Page 143

In the end, the CEO quoted above was just as wrong as the student mentioned in the book. Everything about this book wasn't rosy. Like the company's CEO, things exclaimed as great one minute can very well be not so wonderful the next. It depends on how relevant or irrelevant the feature or discussion becomes.

I commented on the blogs of Adam Griffin, Lei Gu, and Brad Twitty.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Forgetfulness of Design

So I've had a little trouble finding an interface I actually liked. I guess I could blame Norman's book The Design of Everyday Things, but it would be rather fruitless of an exercise. So, here's my thoughts on a particular design, probably with a touch of good, that has some flaws found within.

The example I give is that of the locking (and unlocking) system of my 2006 Toyota Corolla CE, a fine vehicle. One problem though! I couldn't intuitively learn the features of it, specifically one that would require me to take numerous extra steps!

As outlined in the photo below, the manual does an excellent job of explaining the features of the locking system. Things like that the doors can be opened while the car is moving but also the lock/unlock features using the keylock. Also more obtuse things, like the directions of unlocking and locking...who decided "forward" and "backward" were good terms to explain the key turning? How about "right" or "left"? Or better yet, which is more intuitive for the action? Who knows...

It's understood that one can lock in one direction and unlock in the other. But what kind of feedback do you get to know that the doors are locked? None—the locking indicator inside the car is out of purview, the sound feedback of it locking or unlocking is indistinguishable between either and so the user must resort to the task of pulling on the door handle of the door just locked, usually the driver-side door. You are then on your own to know if the other doors have locked. How about when this is on a dark night? Is there any afforandance to this? No, you're just out of luck.

It's a given to expect for the user to have a little trouble in getting the system down as the designer's intended, but there is also the case of how many doors do each door unlock. So, how many do they unlock? Well, the rear doors intuitively don't unlock any. That's a given since they don't have keyholes to begin with! But the front two doors have more than meets the eye.

The feature given is to either lock one door or two. But how does the user know that? With the passenger-side front door, the user can easily notice it opens two. Aah! Easier actions, two people can enter the vehicle. But if the driver unlocks their door first, then they're in for a surprise. It only opens the driver door, nothing more. Maybe this is a safety feature (for those dark nights), but what recompense does the user have in way of opening the other doors? Little, except to open the driver-side door and use the power locks to unlock the others (or do so manually).

That's all unless the user digs deep down in the nice glossy 50-plus-page owner's manual to find the section on unlocking doors. Ah hah! There is another way after all! Two turns in the unlock direction gives you the secret password to opening the doors. "Open, Simsim," indeed!

"The Design of Everyday Things": A Review

Posted comment on George's blog and Drew's blog

Donald Norman's book The Design of Everyday Things turned out to be an exciting and thought-provoking read. Although going into a repetitive cycle of discussion. He takes a deliberately non-technological focus in his book. And, though dated (1980's), the information is as crisp, refreshing and pertinent today as it was when ink was pressed into the pages of its first edition. He takes the reader on a survey (describing psychological points along the way) of good designs but also bad ones. The book closes with a justified look at user-centered design and a summary of good length to remember: fads change but good design remains timeless.

As I mentioned before, the reading got to be a tad repetitive as little was substantially added towards the end of the book, but in all I found the examples of design (and bad design) to be spot on. Who knew a teapot could be so laughingly designed? I found myself to be looking at everyday things much more with a critical eye after reading this book. I began to stop more and think: what's wrong (or right) with this picture? How is this improvable? In the end, looking at the bad designs of things can give you more answers of how to do it right than most well-designed items. Counter-intuitive as this supposition may be, it's important to learn from past mistakes than trying to reinvent the square wheel...and realizing it won't roll down the hill.

So, in closing, I think the author did what he accomplished to do at the start—provoke thinking of objects and their required actions and have the reader think: how can we improve that?