Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Japanero Room

Another example from my stay at the conference. I had a Board meeting in the Japanero room. The hotel meeting rooms were arranged alphabetically, so the Japanero room was easy to find, right between the room beginning with 'I' and the one beginning with 'K'. A colleague asked where we were meeting. I said "the 'J' room". He had no clue what I was talking about.

This illustrates a pretty good example of how an incorrect user model can lead to a poor design. I made an incorrect assumption of his domain knowledge. Because he was a Board member, I assumed he got the same tour I did, which explained the alphabetical design (or he would have figured it out on his own by then). I also made an incorrect assumption about the quality of my message. I also assumed that saying "the 'J' room" would be enough of a semantic link to the organization of the rooms that he would understand my meaning. Because the alphabetical organization was a salient part of my schema, the statement was enough to activate it. But that is no guarantee for other users.

salient design

As I checked into my hotel to attend the IIE conference last week, I was struck by their use of Human Factors in selecting a white bedspread. I am sure that most of you have heard the nightmare stories of how disgusting hotel bedspreads are and the variety of bodily fluids that they find in stains.

So how does a white bedspread help, and why do I consider it a Human Factors application?

1. If the bedspread is white, it provides a visibly salient cue that the bedspread is clean, unlike those stories.

2. They assume that this is important to people, which implies a domain knowledge that includes those stories.

3. There is a semantic link between a clean bedspread and a holistic impression that the hotel cares about cleanliness in general, and therefore even other linens, carpets, etc may be assumed to be clean as well.

Thus, the money spent on cleaning the bedspreads, rather than hiding the stains in colorful patterns, may be worth the investment, but only if it is made clear to the user - which can be done elegantly with a white bedspread. Much better than a sign above the bed declaring that they are clean, which would just call out attention to the kinds of stains that could be present elsewhere.