Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Anchored to aging

We all know that we will inevitably get old (assuming nothing even worse happens first). Getting old leads to reduced physical and mental abilities, and is generally perceived as a negative. But because our society has accepted it as inevitable, we become acculturated to accepting it. To deal with it even better, we develop excuses for why it is a good thing. It prevents overpopulation. It makes room for young people with new ideas. Life would get boring after a hundred years. Etc.

So whey Aubrey de Grey says that he is developing medical/genetic methods to prevent aging and allow us to live to be at least a hundred and stay healthy and strong, he gets the weirdest response. People call him evil and crazy, not because he thinks he can do it, but because he wants to.

This is one of the most extreme cases of anchoring. Because we have already developed our schema of aging, and connected it to “good” or at least “a necessary part of life,” we can’t accept the alternative.

What does this say about us?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Creativity and Jeff Stamp

If anyone has a chance to see Jeff Stamp, the director of the entrepreneurship program at the University of N Dakota's business school, I strongly recommend it. His specialty is generating creativity and focusing it on entrepreneurship. And his workshops are great for business leaders trying to find ways to build creative capability in their organization or professors who want to help their students do the same. For me, I enjoyed taking everything he said and modeling it with the schema model I use in human factors. It all fits, which is good evidence that his advice is effective.

Also, he has some great stories. For anyone who hasn't heard of Jeff, he was Director of New Product Development at Frito Lay and Pepsico, and is responsible for the invention of Baked Lays, Pepsi Max, the current formulation of Betty Crocker cake frosting, and others. I plan to borrow many of them to use as great examples of user requirement analysis.

Finally, he shared that he intentionally gives his students vague assignments because that is the way the real world typically works. My students often complain that my assignments are too vague, and now I have some support that it is a good thing, not a bad thing, for their education.

Monday, October 08, 2007

User requirements

I am constantly faced with situations where a product is missing some little tweak that would have made it much better for the particular context I am in. It usually is something that would have a very low cost in development and in added interface complexity. I wonder why the company didn't see the need. Is it the method they use to identify needs? Are they not looking at a broad set of contexts?

For example, almost everyone has a cell phone now. Cell phones have easy to use clocks. Since we are carrying cell phones everywhere we go, we don't need watches anymore. I don't know how many people have given up watches (especially since they are also a fashion statement), but I imagine there are at least tens of thousands. I am one of them.

So when I travel by plane, and the announcement comes on that I have to turn off my electronic devices, I suddenly am without a clock. Sometimes, I just want to know the time because I am impatient. But last week, I needed to take some medication at a particular time. Wouldn't it be pretty easy to design the phone with an "airplane mode" in which the communication parts are turned off, but you can still access the rest (clock, alarm, games, etc). I bet there are lots of features people would like to use in the plane. Is this enough to get people to choose one phone over another? Or at least to be more satisfied with their current phone and less likely to jump?

One I am less sure about is to have the clock on your computer persistent even when Powerpoint is on slideshow mode. It would be helpful if you could see the clock on the screen when giving a presentation so you don't have to look at your watch (or phone) to see how much time you have left. Its not very big, so I suspect it wouldn't change the slide appearance much. Maybe it could be something you could add to the Slide Master.