Wednesday, September 27, 2006

information architecture in the real world

Neiman Marcus just created a new boutique style store (not a web site - a real store) that is organized differently from its traditional department stores (and different from the usual model). The main difference is the information (or in this case content) organization.

Usually, department stores are organized by product. Shirts are in one place, pants in another, jewelry in another, etc. But in this new store, called CUSP, it is organized by user profile. So for the 20-something trendster, there will be all of the products that this person may want to buy: shirts, pants, suits, accessories, etc. So to check out multiple items, the person stays in the same place. This makes it easier to create matching outfits, try on items from multiple product categories etc.

Is this a great idea or what !! It shows simple attention to human factors. It significantly reduces navigation (which I would claim is even more important in a bricks and mortar store because real travel is required). And it increases the chance of impulse purchases because everything is in view, including that cute purse that would go great with the new pant suit.

But what I would really like to know is what took them so long??? Department stores have been around for decades!!!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

HF of trans fat

Human factors can have a huge impact on the design of systems. Take for example how we choose the food to eat. Two years ago, no one had heard of trans fat. We happily ate oreo cookies and other baked goods oblivious to the damage we were doing to our health.

Then we learned how bad it was for us. But still, it didn't affect our eating because we didn't realize how much of it was in certain foods. So only after the nutrition labels were changed to include trans fat did behavior change. Adding it to the label made the amounts VISIBLE to the user. As soon as it did, there were huge effects. All of a sudden, companies starting making their products with no (or less) trans fat so that people would buy them. We now have trans fat free cookies, cakes, etc.

But we still get lots of trans fat in our foods - because restaurants don't have to have labels, so they can put as much in as they want. And they do. So Americans, Europeans, and most other people continue to get obese in record numbers. If we want to solve the problem, we don't need government to ban trans fat. We value our freedom of choice (trans fat isn't addictive like smoking where we have to be protected). What we need is simply good human factors design. We need the content of the foods we eat to be VISIBLE and then we can make intelligent choices all on our own.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Muslim head scarfs

This is an interesting topic for human factors. I am addressing this more as a cognitive analysis rather than a usability issue. There was an interview on NPR this morning with two teenagers who wear headscarves. They constantly were asked if wearing these scarves made them feel less free. But they replied that because it is their choice to wear the scarf, they feel more freedom. They can either wear them or not, but non-muslims only have the option not to wear them. Interesting point of view.

The reason I think this is a good human factors issue is because of the development of the schema in the girls' feelings about the scarf. I guess you can associate just about any attributes you want to an object if you have the right attitude. That shows you why optimists live longer than pessimists and satisficers live longer than maximizers.

Monday, September 04, 2006

fortune cookies

Many people are familiar with the story that buildings put mirrors in front of elevators as a way to keep people busy while waiting for the elevator to arrive. It is cheaper to do this than to speed up the elevator.

Well, I just learned that the fortune cookie was invented by a Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles to accomplish the same thing. They were served at the beginning of the meal to keep diners busy while they were waiting for their food to arrive.

It is amazing what user requirements can be accomplished through innovative design, rather than solving the most obvious problem. We can design web pages with lots of high resolution graphics as long as we force something that will keep users busy to download first and fast.

In the interest of adding our gender topic to this post, I wonder how much of this is gender-based. I have always heard that men are more impatient than women. It could also be cultural, with Americans being more impatient than Asians.

Friday, September 01, 2006

think big at business week

I love it when major business pubs have articles on human factors. Business Week is the latest (article here). The best thing is that it is short and to the point (i.e. the article is usable itself :-D).

This particular article is about Enterprise Usability (although that is my term, so they don't use it). The idea is that the whole business has to provide a good user experience, from brand image to customer service, with the actual product only being one part.

Go BWeek!!!

gaming table from Phillips

Here is a good example of a product that is predicted to attract more males than females. It is a gaming table from Philips (brief article and photos). But since I am not a gamer, I thought I should ask. Are the women out there interested in taking their board games electronic?

How is this better than the regular cardboard game? You still need to game pieces, so you have to store some physical objects. Does it add convenience? Or is it just the cool factor?