Zeno's Paradox
While critical thinking may not make up for a lack of knowledge, it is essential for gaining knowledge.
Saturday, August 10, 2002:  
Health, Medicine, Statistics, Influence:
When journalists juggle figures, the public is at risk
It turns out that the reports last month about hormone replacement therapy greatly increasing the risk of breast cancer were highly misleading. They were a beat-up, using the oldest statistical trick in the book - but it was more the fault of the medicos than the media.
It turns out that, according to the study's findings, women who don't use HRT have 30 chances in 10,000 of contracting breast cancer, whereas those who do have 38 chances in 10,000. (Eight is roughly 26 per cent of 30.) The best way to put it is that the risk increases from one chance in 333 to one chance in 263.
How do the researchers and journalists think people will interpret "increased the risk of breast cancer by 26 percent"? Do they even bother to think of consequences? Beyond their self-interest for recognition? Next time you see an article referring to the study, note that "26 percent" is being used to scare while "38 in 10,000" is being used to to quell fears.

    -  Ron  6:33 PM

Friday, August 09, 2002:  
Consumer Rights:
End user licenses keep getting more intrusive
Impenetrable EULAs are nothing new in the tech business. But they're getting more intrusive and less fair every day. The latest anti-innovation is the vendor's claim of a unilateral right to change the function of the product you've already purchased.
Think it won't happen? ReplayTV has already done so in what they called after-the-fact a "test".

    -  Ron  10:19 AM

Human Factors:

Designing for Seniors (Part 1)

Designing for seniors is a challenge for even experienced designers. Testing with seniors is equally challenging. Here are some notes from my conducting a usability test of an internet application with an elderly test participant:

    Participant #x (64 and Over): (For privacy reasons, I have removed the actual participant number and am referring to him as “Alan”.) Alan was the single test participant in the “64 and over” age range. (I roughly estimate he was in his 80’s). He had a number of age-related disabilities that should be expected for this age group. Due to his ability levels, he had the greatest difficulty with the product. Since this participant represents an important part of the client’s target market, it is important to understand Alan’s disabilities and how they affected his behavior and performance:

    Visual Abilities: (Expected: far-sightedness, reduced contrast differentiation, and color deficiencies.) Alan wore glasses to compensate for his far-sightedness. He commented that the test monitor (17 inch monitor running 800x600 pixels) was better than what he had at home. Even so, he had difficulty seeing details of low-contrast images and text. He had difficulty reading the smallest text within the product and had to squint and move his face closer to the monitor to read such text.

    Motor Skills: (Expected: slower movement, reduced fine motor skills, possible involuntary movement.) Alan uses a trackball at home rather than the mouse that was provided for the test. Because Alan has slight tremors in his hands, he had difficulty using the mouse, which magnified these involuntary movements. He repeatedly had difficulty targeting buttons and links within the product.

    Intellectual Abilities: (Expected: slower reaction time, slower learning rate, easily distracted, reduced working memory, false episodic memories.) Alan had a very slow pace working through the test. He had difficulty remembering the functionality of items that he did not understand. He had trouble staying with the scripted scenarios and had to be repeatedly reminded to refer back to the test script when he strayed too far or too long.

    Hearing Abilities: (Expected: difficulties hearing high frequencies and distinguishing speech.) No issues.

Overall, Alan had the greatest difficulties differentiating between when the product was responding slowly to a button click versus when he failed to click a button correctly. Because of the many difficulties he had and his slow pace, Alan was instructed to skip most of the subtasks in order to complete within the allotted time of two hours.

Reference on Designing for Seniors:
Creating Senior-Friendly Web Sites (Large PDF file, 130kb)
Making Your Web Site Senior Friendly (Large PDF file, 174kb)
Interface Design Guidelines for Users of All Ages (Large PDF file, 90kb)

    -  Ron  9:30 AM

Thursday, August 08, 2002:  
And Now for Something Completely Different:
A (Supposed) Letter from the Curator of Antiquities at the Smithsonian Institute
Thank you for your latest submission to the Institute, labeled "211-D, layer seven, next to the clothesline post. Hominid skull." We have given this specimen a careful and detailed examination, and regret to inform you that we disagree with your theory that it represents "conclusive proof of the presence of Early Man in Charleston County two million years ago." Rather, it appears that what you have found is the head of a Barbie doll
A hilarious urban legend.

    -  Ron  7:15 AM

Wednesday, August 07, 2002:  
Human Factors:
Boys, boys, boys (The scarcity of women in digital design)
You might think that in the brave new world of interactive design the battle of the sexes has been won. New industry, new men, new network. You would be wrong.
Good article on some of the reasons that women are so scarce in digital design. Unfortunately, the article contains some nonsense as well:
"It's a great shame, because women are particularly good when it comes to the usability of a site," says Austin. "They are good at giving and taking advice, and when they design a page they tend to be concerned not just with how it looks, but also how it works. It may sound stereotypical, but men are often so carried away by the beauty of what they have designed they forget to think about whether it is user-friendly."
If usability was so easy, it wouldn’t be so rare... (Hopefully, this is just another case of poor editing.)

Tangent: Interestingly, women are well represented (perhaps even the majority?) in usability testing. Lots of reasons why: the social skills required for the work, the prominent women leaders in usability testing, and that usability testing is seen as career advancement from other fields with a high proportion of women.

    -  Ron  8:54 AM

Management, Creativity, Human Factors:
Time Pressure and Creativity: Why Time is Not on Your Side
very high levels of time pressure should be avoided if you want to foster creativity on a consistent basis. However, if a time crunch is absolutely unavoidable, managers can try to preserve creativity by protecting people from fragmentation of their work and distractions
Want to kill creativity? If so, then follow the example of inexperienced and inept managers everywhere: Impose unrealistic deadlines, force people to multitask, and ensure that they are exposed to distractions.

    -  Ron  7:05 AM

Tuesday, August 06, 2002:  
Critical Thinking, Medicine, Human Factors:
Prof. Ian Parberry shares his personal fight with Multiple Sclerosis in a website that’s full of raw lessons, dark humor, and critical thinking: MultipleSclerosisSucks While I recommend the entire site, don’t miss these:

How a Scientist Thinks: A nice introduction to the Scientific Method.

Statistics: Another nice introduction that’s interactive. Don’t dismiss statistics, or trust others’ dismissals, until you know the basics…

You Be the Research Scientist: Takes the lessons from the statistics page a few steps further. Conducting research on a statistically insignificant population is risky at best, unethical at worst.

    -  Ron  7:01 AM

Monday, August 05, 2002:  
Human Factors:
Lyle Kantrovich at Croc o' Lyle found another reference on Miller's 7+-2 that I had been unable to find:
3.14159, 42, and 7±2:
Three Numbers That (Should) Have Nothing To Do With User Interface Design
by Denny C. LeCompte.
Thanks Lyle!

Personas, Participatory Design and Product Development: An Infrastructure for Engagement (Large PDF file, 119kb) by Dr. Jonathan Grudin and Dr. John Pruitt.
The design of commercial products that are intended to serve millions of people has been a challenge for collaborative approaches. The creation and use of fictional users, concrete representations commonly referred to as ‘personas’, is a relatively new interaction design technique. It is not without problems and can be used inappropriately, but based on experience and analysis it has extraordinary potential. Not only can it be a powerful tool for true participation in design, it also forces designers to consider social and political aspects of design that otherwise often go unexamined.
Personas have been used in human factors work for well over a decade. It's nice to find articles like this that review some of their history, benefits, and drawbacks.

    -  Ron  10:44 AM

Sunday, August 04, 2002:  
Human Factors:
This site is designed to provide current and accurate information on how to make health-related information Web sites and other user interfaces more usable, accessible, and useful.
The best single online resource for website human factors. Lots of high-quality information based upon the best evidence available.

    -  Ron  11:38 AM

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