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.