Friday, April 28, 2006

Inspiration v perspiration

Sometimes it amazes me how places to apply HF are conceived. I generally promote the scientific method. Wade out into the tides of the user population, observing and collecting ethnographic, naturalistic data that illustrates their true needs. Then quantify and prioritize the needs through surveys, stratification, and statistical analysis.

But the inspiration method works pretty well too. I was reading an article in Industrial Safety and Hygiene News and I had a great brainstorm (helped along by the author's idea). If workers with different skill sets have different color uniforms or at least parts of the uniform, it could be very helpful in situations were faces are not recognizable. This could be in smoky facilities, over far distances, when workers wear goggles or face masks, etc. The uniforms (or patches) could signify many things that would be useful. In an emergency, it would be fast and easy to recognize who has partcicular skills like hazmat or medical. People who are from other departments could be recognized, either for security or safety reasons. An application of HF that I had never thought of before materialized right before my eyes.

Of course I would verify the need and marketability of the idea before investing my life savings in a start-up venture. My quantitative bones couldn't handle the uncertainty otherwise.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Defaults as expert opinion

There was an article in psychological science this month investigating the reasons that when public and organizational policies have a default (such as organ donation defaulting to opt-out), people generally stick to the default. The research concluded that people assume that the default is a recommendation from the policy makers of the best course of action.

I wonder if there is a correlate in usability. Does the typical user, who notoriously leaves settings such as virus protection, operating system defaults, etc. at the default, also have this unconscious assumption that the software maker recommends the defaults? That would be a much different conclusion than it is simply laziness.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Successors in politics or business.

Listening to a story about the King of Nepal gave me a thought. When a new leader, either in politics (President or King) or business (CEO or even plant manager) follows a particularly loved or hated predecessor, there are a few things that seem to come up.

1. They often stake out policies that are more extreme than they would based just on their original position, in part to make it clear that they are "their own man" (or woman).

2. They also sometimes are less willing to respond to criticism or failure.

The first one makes sense from a Human Factors point of view. In order to differentiate yourself from your predecessor (and have any hope at being remembered in history), you have to make the distinction clear, or stakeholders' schema will lump you together with the predecessor. If he/she was loved, this lumping will make you more likely to be loved, but less likely to get any credit or for people to follow you as the new leader. So staking out a new direction makes sense. If he/she was hated, then the distinction is even more important.

But what about this second one? I have a theory. It is possible that the policies of the predecessor are strongly connected to "policies of other" because a) they are not your policies and b) you are trying to differentiate yourself from them anyway. Policies of critics are strongly connected to "policies of other" because a) they are not your policies and b) criticisms always get connected to negative affect. So it makes sense that the same response will occur.

Failures could work the same way. It makes sense to try to disassociate yourself from your failures by blaming them on external factors. This is a common decision making bias in HF research. So they get connected to "others" as well, even if they are your own fault.

So this could explain the King of Nepal's (and president Bush) intransigence in the face of failure.

What do you think?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Safer cell phone use while driving??

This article presents an interesting concept, but I am not so sure it would be as effective as they think. The basic idea is that your cell phone will chirp (the same sound as the pedestrian crosswalk warning) when you get within 100 meters of a traffic light.

The idea is that many drivers who are talking on their cell phones don't notice it turn red and hit pedestrians or stopped cars. It is based on GPS, so you don't need any fancy technology, just a GPS enabled phone. It is connected to a database of traffic light locations.

But this means it will chirp even for green lights. So my questions are:
1. Will drivers habituate to the sound and start ignoring it? This could happen either for drivers who pass traffic lights a lot - habituation based on frequency of red and green lights - or when drivers start to ignore chirps because they often warn about green lights - habituation based on proportion of false alarms. The Human Factors research on trust in automation could probably predict what will happen, but focused research is probably needed.

2. Will drivers get annoyed by the chirp and either turn it off or just ignore it for aesthetic reasons? After all, it would have to be salient enough to draw attention away from the conversation for it to work. So the annoyance is virtually guaranteed for a large proportion of the user group.

What do you think?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Long term and short term behavior

I read an interesting article today (to show you how widely my interests vary!!) on how watching violent media (TV, movies, comic books, video games, music) affects aggressive behaviors. The relevance to Human Factors is interesting.

What they found is that adults are affected more in the short term, presumably because they already have schemas on how to respond to aggressive feelings, which become activated through the media exposure. But kids have long term effects, presumably because the exposure causes the development of new schemas.

Just some speculation, but I wonder how this would work with training or exposure to a new work system or technology interface? It could have some implications for new v refresher training sessions and how to design and deliver them.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Description error strikes again. In my constant effort at metacognition, I noticed another good one this morning on my way to work.

I left a water bottle on the kitchen counter to remind myself to grab my lunch on the way to work. As I passed the kitchen on my way out, I saw the water bottle and remembered about the lunch. So I walked into the kitchen and noticed my multi-vitamin bottle. I had forgotten to take my vitamin that morning, so I grabbed one and swallowed it. As I walked out the door, I realized that I had forgotten my lunch again. This is a description error because the vision of my vitamin bottle caused my activation to go there and it dropped below threshold for my working memory of grabbing my lunch.