Interesting Blog 4: Usability Blog


Usability Blog is written by Paul Sherman, founder of a user experience consulting firm, ShermanUX. Sherman has been in the usability industry for the past 12 years and fills his blog with numerous posts of good and bad design examples. They include snapshots of various websites, objects, infographics, and more, along with a brief blurb on his opinion.

I suggest my classmates to take a look at this blog for not only design tips but to get some ideas for Good/Bad Design examples to post. He touches on a few things I never really thought about, like repetitive “My”s in a menu or physical obtrusion to an interface. Maybe something mentioned in Sherman’s blog will remind you of another site that fails or succeeds in the same thing.

On another note, be sue to look at Sherman’s explanation of severity ratings. I think this applies to us all very well, since we have a few more usability reports coming up.


RAA 3: The effects of cognitive ageing on use of complex interfaces.

CognitionReddy, G., Blackler, A., Mahar, D., & Popovic, V. (2010). The effects of cognitive ageing on use of complex interfaces. Proceedings of the 22nd Conference of the Computer-Human Interaction Special Interest Group of Australia on Computer-Human Interaction, 180-183. doi:10.1145/1952222.1952259

Many older adults find it difficult to use modern products because of their function and interface design. Past research shows that the decline in cognitive functioning as you get older affects your speed and accuracy when using complex technological products, but another study shows that effectively using a product is not generation-specific or different depending on your age.

Therefore, the authors of this paper wanted to look deeper at how cognitive aging and prior technology experience affect using such complex interfaces.

37 subjects between ages 18 and 83 participated in the experiment. First, they were given an information package, consent form, eye acuity test, and a questionnaire on their technology experience. Then they were given trials that involved tasks with a body fat analyzer. Task time, errors, body language, and facial expressions were recorded at this time. After, the subjects were given a post test on their technological experience, and used an application to measure “different aspects of cognitive function” (p. 181).

Main Findings
The researchers found a significant negative correlation between experience with technology and task time. Younger people were more likely to be tech-savvy and take less time.

There was also a strong negative correlation between sustained attention, task time, and errors. Older adults were less able to sustain attention.

Lastly, older adults tended to make more errors than the younger participants and also took longer to recover from errors. The authors state that this opposes the Processing-speed Theory proposed by Salthouse (1996), which suggests that there would be minimal differences between older and younger performance if given unlimited amount of time. The experiment had no time restrictions, and therefore the findings contradict this.

Again, due to the subject being elderly and technology, this does relate to my thesis. I thought that the contradiction to the Processing-speed theory was an interesting find and that the experiment resulted good ground work on how complex systems are more difficult for older adults due to cognitive aging. I also thought it was surprising that they had older subjects (aged 60-83) that had decent experience with technology. Although the graph they supplied made it obvious that the time it took to complete tasks were higher than that of younger participants. Maybe the older participants just felt the need to take their time, and the younger ones just wanted to get out of there? A possible threat to internal validity, I suppose.

Good/Bad Design 6: Copiers


Having worked at the HSSE Library in an office by the copy machines for the past year, I can tell you that wholeheartedly that they are NOT easy to use. Everyday, people knock on door asking for help of some sort. And it’s not that they’re unintelligent; it’s just that the large contraption is a beast, especially when you’re doing something other than making a copy.

It’s almost difficult to point out all the way this object is confusing. If you’re making one copy, I suppose it’s quite simple to understand to press the large START button. But then again, why am I pressing START when I want to COPY?

In fact, when I think about it there are many labels that could be clarified: To copy a regular 8.5″ x 11″ page, the user is required to understand that it is “Letter” size. And then they are required to understand that “Letter” is abbreviated as “LT”. Same with Ledger (LD) and Legal (LG). Different paper trays are also labeled as A4 or A3… Why? That means nothing to the user. And sometimes you can choose an “Original Mode”, but what constitutes as “Original”? In this case, the copier does a poor job of the mental model, or matching the system to the real world.

Although, I think one of the most interesting aspects (of the copiers in the library, at least) is that they require to user to switch between pressing tactile buttons on a keypad and digital buttons on the touch screen. This is not only for switching the mode you want – Say, from COPY to SCAN – but even when inputting your email. I’ve had to tell several students that numbers aren’t listed on the touch screen because you have to use the number keypad instead. A simple switch, but one that isn’t intuitive.

Another common mistake is that some users don’t seem to even notice from where the copies eject. It actually appears in one of two nooks in the copier, and you usually have to bend down slightly to see and grab them.

With all the complex workings of a copier, it’s no wonder that staff need to be trained to use them and help others; it’s practically impossible to figure out on your own. Even I’m not learned in all its functions.

Thoughts 3: Research Phase

Today I learned: Design processes are not as simple as they seem.

We’ve read in class about Cooper’s Goal-Directed Design Process and a Pervasive Design Process, but today we tried to applying it to a hypothetical project in which we created a pizza-ordering app.

I though I had a good grasp on what to do. After all, we were only focusing on the research phase of the design: determining persona hypotheses and what to do for data collection and sampling. But it seemed that deciding on which method to employ wasn’t that obvious, nor which questions to ask.

I imagine that any part of the design process is done better with more practice. Books may describe what a designer has the options of doing and how to do it, but the designer may not completely grasp the extent of the method until actually applying it to a situation. Lesson learned.

Reading Reflection 6

Paay, J. (2008). From ethnography to interface design.

I didn’t know much about ethnography before reading this article, but I thought it gave a great background on it and the relation to HCI. Obviously, I didn’t know that a gap existed between ethnography and interface design either, but the paper seemed to propose such a simplistic solution that I wonder if it is actually effective. Turning towards ethnography for a contextual understanding of technology seems like a smart move for a designer, since it enriches a user’s experience and provides answers to a design. It makes me wonder why such a gap still exists between the two, although I can understand how the translation could prove difficult. I guess it shows that moving from Research to Planning isn’t always easy.

I also thought this article gave an informative instruction on their design process.

Eysenbach, G., & Köhler, C. (2002). How do consumers search for and appraise health information on the world wide web? Qualitative study using focus groups, usability tests, and in-depth interviews.

This article reminded me about the one on information scent, partially because of the task searching and the medical information topic. What I most liked about this reading was the quotes from the focus groups and interviews about credibility. The participants mentioned several key items to consider when designing. It also shows that users will likely not continue on a site if it lacks perceived credibility.

Millen, D. (2000). Rapid ethnography: Time deepening strategies for HCI field research.

This paper posed many standing problems with ethnographic methods for HCI. While it may be a powerful way of obtaining research on your audience, I can understand how time does not always allow for such an extensive analysis. Rapid ethnography seems to provide an alternative to time-sensitive projects by “narrowing the focus of the field research”, using “multiple interactive observation techniques”, and using “collaborative and computerized iterative data analyze methods”. However, it does seem that many sources are recommended for it to succeed, such as field guides, corporate informants, various software, etc.

Cooper. (2007). About face 3.

Cooper’s Chapter 4 covers ways to conduct qualitative research, including ethnographic interviews. He suggests speaking with stakeholders and subject matter experts to identify candidates for interviews before actually conducting them. This way, the designer basically sets up a persona hypothesis and has a basic idea of the different behavior patters that will appear when researching. Cooper also touches briefly on other types of research such as focus groups, usability testing, card sorting, and task analysis – many of which we spoke of in class last week.

Reading Reflection 5

Brinck, T., Gergle, D., & Wood, S.D. (2002). Designing Web Sites That Work: Usability for the Web. Morgan Kaufman.

The chapter we had to read introduced the Pervasive Design Process:

Pervasive Design Process

I thought it seemed like a good basis for any project and very much relates to the Production Pipeline (CGT 581) course I’m currently taking. It also reminds me of Cooper’s similar (yet clearly different) Goal-Directed Design Process, which consists of six phases: Research, Modeling, Requirements, Framework Refinement, and Support.

There are definite overlaps in the two, such as speaking with your stakeholders or creating a requirements definition. I guess the major difference would be the introduction of personas in Cooper’s process. Brinck et al. also go more into detail on Resources (like budget and staff) than I recall Cooper doing.

This reading has some good advice; I especially appreciated the insight on how to decide on what method to use. It should prove useful to my own study.

Breakthrough Idea 2: LED Contacts

Whoa. Just, whoa.

An old high school classmate of mine recently posted this surprising link on Facebook: LED Lights Make Augmented Vision a Reality. The article dates back to January so I may be behind the times, but this is the first I’ve heard of any breakthrough like this.

My first reaction: It’s like Minority Report! Soon we’ll be watching TV with contact lenses and later we’ll be interacting with interfaces with just our eyeballs. Nifty.

The article mentions augmented reality, but aside from that, just think of what implications this will have in HCI. Interfaces floating in front of our eyes… The design of such will likely change as the way we use them changes. No longer inhibited by monitors and their constraints, designers would have to accommodate for this. However, I imagine design principles to remain the same since they are based on human perception, but they would likely be applied differently.

The only concern I have is that floating interactive interfaces, such as ones in Minority Report, seem to require more effort to use. Grabbing a window physically by extending your arm seems to ask a lot of the user. Perhaps this won’t be the case, however, and that technology will only require miniscule movements to function – a twitch of a finger, perhaps.

RAA 2: The use of communication technology by older adults

I just noticed that my previously scheduled dates for finishing my RAAs are incorrect, since the actual due date for all of them are November 1st, not the end of the semester like I had thought. Therefore, I will have to complete one RAA every week until the 1st starting now.

Elderly On Computer

Melenhorst, A., Rogers, W., & Caylor, E. (2001). The use of communication technologies by older adults: Exploring the benefits from the user’s perspective. Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting Proceedings, 45(3), 221-225. doi:10.1177/154193120104500305

The authors’ goal was to investigate the benefits that older adults saw from using communication technologies such as email or telephone.

The article focused on the fact that older adults are selective with their actions – weighing the cost with the benefits before ever committing to something. This means that there is some benefit they see from using the communication methods they use, but what?

13 focus groups were formed with a total of 48 older adults in independent living. They ranged from 65 to 80 years of age.

These participants were given a questionnaire at home for their demographics and background information. Once in a focus group, they were given booklets that contained scenarios of communication that an older adult could experience in everyday life. Participants then discussed the scenarios in 2.5 hour sessions, giving real examples from their lives and pointing out their motivation for using such communication.

Sessions were recorded on audio tape, then transcribed before being analyzed to discover three things: the medium or method, the communication scenario, and the motivation or consideration for using the method. Motivations were then categorized as a cost or benefit.

Main Findings
The benefit of a communication method is very context-related, but all users recognized the fact that email increased communication frequency. Alternatively, participants felt that email was not intimate or as interactive as a phone. Plus, there was the cost of the effort it would take to learn how to use email.

All participants also highly valued personal visits, where the costs were minimal but were from too much (undesirable) intimacy and the time and effort a visit takes. Regardless, they were found to be irreplaceable for most.

This article very much relates to my thesis on elderly and the iPhone and has touched on a reoccurring theory in my research: the Socioemotional Selectivity Theory. While the research focused more on email, I will definitely remember their thinking on context-related perceived benefits. I would also like to remember that, in general, older adults view communication as a positive concept, and that knowledge of the benefits of a specific media likely determines if this audience will use them.

Interesting Blog 3:


I don’t know if anyone from class has yet to mention this blog, but I wanted to bring attention to the online journal on Yes, it is from the design firm of Alan Cooper himself!

While several of the posts seem less relevant to design, such as an entry on their Dodgeball Tournament, others are inspiring and provide great insights to what it is like to work for a design firm. (Or at least for Cooper.)

I absolutely love the use of photos in their posts; they really help provide the imagery of all that is Cooper and design. For example, take a look at “Good design is only half the story”, where you can briefly see how designers and non-designers can come together in a collaborative process.

I also recommend looking at the post, “What marketing executives should know about user experience”. It’s one of their longer ones, but really hits some key points as to what user experience design can do for a company.