Thursday, August 31, 2006

welcome HF class

Today is the first day of my undergraduate human factors course at FIU. Since I will tell them about the blog, I expect a few of them to visit between now and winter break. Please comment anytime you like (and get bonus class participation points!).

Also, I joined a research project that wants to know what people think about gender issues - specifically masculinity. I don't know much about it yet, but if anyone sees any important gender issues in the subjects I cover in the blog, feel free to comment on them.

Monday, August 21, 2006

calming fear

There was a study a saw abstracted that suggests that cartoons are better than mothers at calming childrens' fears. I thought about it for a few minutes, and it made perfect sense:

Cartoons distract the child from the fear. Basically, it activates a completely different area of the brain. If the cartoon is salient enough, it can attract all of the child's attentive capacity, thus reducing the fear to zero.

Mothers soothe the child. They assure them that the fear is not real and that they are OK. Essentially, they are inhibiting the fear and associating the current state with the "things are OK" schema. This may solve the problem, but does not eliminate the fear activation completely.

So a good cartoon will always be better than a good mother for this kind of need. As long as the fear is not based on some real-world situation that must be addressed by the child, ignorance is bliss.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

expert v novice

In-N-Out Burger has a great approach to supporting expert and novices and they do it in a way that creates community as well. They have a very short/simple menu that is perfect for novices. But for experts that want something different, they have an unlisted expert menu. This also supports maximizers because they can have the exact combination they want.

What makes the community - the hidden menu has its own language. People who want to feel 'cool' can use the language so that other customers realize they are an expert customer.

From a pure human factors point of view, the hidden language has great visibility and mapping. For the basic criteria, which compose most of the customization customers will want (my prediction based on no data :-D), the customer simply provides two numbers in the format x by y. X refers to the number of burgers and y to the number of cheese slices. So you can get 5 patties and 3 slices of cheese by saying "5 by 3" Very intuitive, easy to recall, short - all the good usability principles.

But the key question is - "how does one convert from a novice to an expert. If you have friends, that would work. Or is you happen on it on Wikipedia. But in general, there is a whole bunch of service functionality that is invisible.