Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The clock is ticking: Implications of time perception on performance

A recent article on FAABS discusses how individuals who are more aware of how much time they have spent working on something are more likely to have less focus on what they are working on, compared to those individuals who are less aware of the passage of time. This is because keeping track of time competes for attentional resources that would otherwise be allocated to the primary task.

This has implications for students studying for a test. The more effort students are expending on tracking the passage of time, lower their subsequent performance. The chances of being distracted are higher for individuals with low working memory capacity. Dr. Magliano says that it is good to be aware that one is distracted by time and that this can impact one’s performance and this is when one should take a break.  

Think about this when you are writing a research paper, creating a presentation or studying for a test! 

Photo credit Everaldo Coelho and YellowIcon via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Improving in-store shopping experience

I was at Marshalls a few days back and saw the following captions for hangers in the dressing room. This would help the confused shopper compartmentalize their thoughts better! 

Store layout, ergonomic mobile kiosks (for registry), self-check-out kiosks, to name a few, are all aspects that would impact the shopping experience. Hence, it is great that several department stores (e.g., Macy's, Kohl's) are hiring user experience designers to help design their kiosks and define customer interactions and experiences.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Pollution and Cognition

The most recent issue of Monitor on Psychology has an interesting article on the effects of air pollution on human cognition.

Key takeaways from the article:
  • Fine particulate matter (particles less than 2.5 micrometer in diameter) affects brain performance as this can easily penetrate into the human body. For example, humans exposed to high levels of black carbon showed decrements in cognitive performance - the extent was the same as the cognitive decline induced by two years of aging.
  • While there is not a lot of research on the effects of coarse particulate matter (particles ranging from 2.5-10 micrometers) on cognition, the preliminary evidence seems to imply that coarse particulate matter can impact human cognition as well.
  • Air pollution also affects children – kids exposed to high levels of air pollutants have a higher likelihood of experiencing attentional problems.
  • Air pollution also has a negative effect on anxiety and depression.

Photo credit Sergeev Pavel via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

From task analysis to use error analysis: Designing out the human error in medical devices

Most organizations have a good process in place to ensure that the products they are designing meet a high degree of reliability and can withstand technical breakdowns. However, equally important and sometimes overlooked aspect is the breakdown that occurs as a result of the human operator. As a human factors scientist, I have been trained to never criticize the human operator. To err is human - because of our limited cognitive processing capacity. As a result, it is important to design out the human error, when designing systems. Here I describe a technique that can be employed to reduce human error in medical device interaction. Of course, this can be employed in any domain.  

Start with a task analysis of the new or proposed system. A plethora of ways to do a task analysis exists. I typically employ a hierarchical approach, wherein a high-level procedure is broken down into associated activities, functions, tasks, and steps. Of course, it is up to the researcher to determine the level of granularity associated with this breakdown. I typically employ this level of analysis (i.e., procedure- >activity->function->task->step) because this helps in identifying primary operating functions (frequent or safety-critical functions), which needs to be identified to comply with EN 62366 (a usability engineering standard that medical device manufacturers should follow).

The task analysis helps to systematically identify and document the environment in which the task is conducted, the operators involved, the information required to perform the task, and the sources of information.

Once the task analysis is complete, the use error analysis is conducted.
  • A failure mode and effects analysis is employed.
  • This approach starts with the task analysis and is conducted at the function level of the task analysis.
  • For each function in the task analysis, the user errors (e.g., errors of omission, errors of commission) and the associated hazards are identified.
  • The use errors are generated by analytically determining what can go wrong from the user’s end when interacting with the system. The list of user errors that are observed during user testing is then added to this list.
  • Based on the probability of occurrence of user errors and hazards, hazard estimates are computed. This is done by working with a cross-functional team.
  • Hazard estimates that exceed a certain value (this criterion is very much dependent on your domain) need to be mitigated through effective design solutions and training strategies.  

Usability testing should include scenarios that evaluate the frequent and safety-critical functions. These scenarios should help determine whether user errors that were identified in the analysis detailed above have been mitigated to a satisfactory level.

Photo credit Mk2010 via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Improving patient compliance and reducing medical errors by redesigning pharmacies

Here is an interesting article on how pharmacies interact with patients in the United States.

From the article:
“For reasons I cannot explain, my pharmacist is stationed behind a glass partition. I often have to stand in line till it’s my turn at the booth. I stand while talking. Usually it’s the pharmacy’s less-professional assistant who I interact with. (Actually, I’m not sure what her background is--pharmacist-in-training, salesclerk, something else?) She’s my main contact unless I have a question. Then the pharmacist will come out from behind the glass and provide a usually abbreviated answer. That, or just holler the answer back.

Key takeaway:
·         Design the pharmacy layout so as to encourage conversations between patients and pharmacists. Conversations with pharmacists have the potential to improve patient’s compliance to medications and avoid drug confusion.

From the article:
“Today a typical pharmacy displays rows and rows of pills in similar-looking white bottles on the pharmacist’s shelves. These different drugs are then transferred to identical-looking pill bottles. With the bottles being heavily tinted in an orange or Target-pharmacy red, the pills themselves--even when they look different in actuality (many don’t)--are difficult to see. (The Target pill bottle, circa 2005, with its flat sides and color-coded ring, helps, but it’s not a silver bullet.) The generically printed bottle labels look the same and bear drug names that are hard to differentiate and difficult, sometimes impossible, to pronounce.

Key takeaway:
·         Basic human factors principles such as color coding, grouping like medications, and better labeling strategies can be employed to reduce the reliance on pharmacist memory and consequently reduce the incidence of errors pertaining to medication selection.

Photo credit Candy via Wikimedia Commons.