Monday, October 21, 2013

Nest has done it again!

Nest has launched a smoke alarm that
  1. Talks to you about the impending danger and the location of the danger, rather than just beeping (Intelligent feedback)
  2. Stays connected to you via your phone and informs you when the system is low on battery or if the alarm goes off (Continuous feedback)
  3. Is gesture controlled and recognizes hand waves, eliminating the need to swing a towel (Takes in user input)
  4. Provides light at night (Nice to have; going with their theme of creating a superior "home experience")
  5. Coupled with the Nest thermostat, it can sense carbon monoxide poisoning and even shut down the furnace.
You can read more about the Nest smoke and carbon monoxide alarm here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Handbags to your rescue?

How many times have you been in situations where your phone is low on battery or even dead, you have no means to charge it, and you have to make an urgent call or look up directions? This article describes just the solution for this.

Everpurse is a handbag that lets you charge your smartphone (iPhone, Samsung Galaxy S) via an in-built charging dock. You no longer need to carry around a charger or look for a power-outlet.

The concept is both functional and stylish. You can read more about Everpurse here.

Though I personally think this is cool, my friends who are 'handbag gurus' state that they are never going to pick up a handbag such as this one just because of the functionality. Style and branding are more important to them. 

For all the ladies out there – see here for the collection, which are available in both fabric and leather. 

Photocredit: TheLivingRoominKenmore, via Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Google Glass goes to the OR

Google Glass has the potential to transform healthcare. For example, Glass can be used in surgical training and remote consultation. This article describes how Dr. Grossmann used Glass to broadcast a Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy procedure via Google Glass and Google Hangout, without compromising patient confidentiality.  

Glass can also be used in public heath – For example, Dr. Assad has developed an app that can used to help perform CPR. The app helps to analyze the rate and adequacy of the compressions, try to find the nearest external defibrillator, and even contact 911 and the nearest hospital.

No doubt, we have the potential with the technology today to revolutionize health care. However, when designing such systems, taking into consideration the social, emotional, perceptual, and cognitive characteristics of users is key for creating a superior user experience and for improving patient outcomes.  

Photo Credit: Tedeytan, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Does the presence of a virtual avatar affect your performance?

Social facilitation refers to the phenomenon of how the presence of another human can impair or improve one’s task performance. The effects of social facilitation is widely studied in the context of sports. For example, an ace tennis player may be able to play a better game in the presence of an audience.

There are various theoretical explanations for this effect.  For example, based on the activation theory, the arousal levels of people are elevated in the presence of others. This heightened arousal then increases performance in well-learned tasks. Conversely, there is also the evaluation apprehension theory, according to which, it is not the presence of others but the fear of being evaluated that increases arousal in performers.

Now, if human performance is affected by the presence of another human, does it mean that human performance is also affected by the presence of an anthropomorphic agent?

 According to this article, social facilitation effects holds true in the presence of an anthropomorphic agent as well. The researchers found that when participants were given an easy task to perform, their performance was better when they were in the company of a virtual human than when they were alone. Conversely, when participants were given a difficult task to perform, their performance was worse when they were in the company of a virtual human.

Think of this when designing interfaces with anthropomorphic agents!

Photo credit: Jupiter Firelyte (Berries & Latte) via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Interactive user manuals

Ever seen a’ tire pressure low’ warning come up in your car and did not know what it represented? Under such a scenario, if I am at the driver’s seat, I am going through the owner’s manual trying to decipher what the warning meant.

Audi has come up with a very interesting way in which Audi A1/A3 drivers can handle situations such as the one described above. The automobile manufacturer has launched an iOS App, which lets drivers point the camera in their smartphone to a part in the car. Image recognition occurs real-time and provides information on the car part to the driver. Read more about this here.

Photocredit: Nozilla via Wikimedia Comm ons.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Medication Adherence

Non-adherence to medications is a growing concern among health care providers and payers as this is associated with adverse outcomes and consequently higher healthcare costs. Several factors contribute to non-adherence; the significant issues as identified by the World Health Organization are outlined here.

Complexity of the medication regimen is a key factor contributing to non-adherence. This includes the inability of patients to understand how and when to take a particular drug. Reduced cognitive functioning (especially for the elderly patients or patients with mental disorders) and a long or complicated medication list (e.g., multiple doses a day) can make medication planning and adherence a daunting task.

Do you think the dosage  instructions below can help?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Do you trust the machine?

Several factors such as automation reliability, automation consistency, and operator workload have been shown to affect automation use. However, there are very few empirical studies examining the role of user personality on trust in automation.

This article describes the importance of examining individual differences when studying trust and automation use. The key-takeaways from the article are:
  • Individuals with higher propensity to trust machines are likely to expect the automation to perform correctly. Therefore, when the machine makes errors,      these individuals are likely to notice these errors and remember these errors more strongly. This experience then influences subsequent perceptions of trust. Conversely, if the machine has high reliability, these individuals will trust the system to a dangerously high level.
  • The authors differentiate between two types of trust: dispositional trust and history-based trust.  Dispositional trust is based on an individual’s personality characteristics. For example, extraverts are more likely to trust automation (just as extraverts are more willing to trust other people). History-based trust, on the other hand, is created as a result of interactions with the machine.
  • Don’t view trust as a static concept. Trust evolves over time from dispositional trust to history-based trust. This means that researchers should measure trust at multiple times to get a clear picture of how trust evolves from the beginning, based on automation characteristics and performance.
  • Operator training should take into consideration individual characteristics. For example, training should be customized based on the level of extraversion, wherein extraverts are cautioned about the dangers of exhibiting overreliance on automation.

Photo credit: Salvagnini, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Guidelines for creating powerpoint presentations

This article in Ergonomics in Design provides guidelines for developing powerpoint presentations. Everything from font selection to color, chart, and layout guidelines are provided.

Photo credit: BenBen1234, via Wikimedia Commons. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

A picture is worth a thousand words

article presents an infographic that will help you pick a wine, based on various characteristics.

What I like about this graphic:
  • Illustrates the big picture: Users are provided with clear and consistent information and elements have been grouped in a logical manner. The infographic shows that there are 5 main varieties of white wines, that differ on several characteristics.
  • Depicts relationships: The infographic helps to easily associate related items and disassociate unrelated items.  For example, let us look at Chenin Blanc and Gew├╝rztraminer, both of which share the common theme of being a “semi-sweet” wine. Though both the wines are classified as semi-sweet wines, both appear to be very different from each other. While Chenin Blanc scores high on pear, almond, stonefruit, and fig flavors, honey and floral are the characteristic traits that represent Gew├╝rztraminer.
  • Is Aesthetic: The depiction inspires me to examine and understand the information that is presented. This is in striking contrast to textual or tabular information that do not provide an obvious affordance.
  • Creates visual interest: Shapes have been used very effectively to create contrast between the different wines, even within the same category.     

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Human factors in the medical device industry

There has been a growing emphasis on human factors as a part of the product development process in the medical device industry, in the past few years. In fact, the human factors and ergonomics society even conducted a special symposium on human factors and health care, wherein medical device design was a special track. So, why the sudden demand for human factors in the medical device industry? A lot of this demand is driven by regulatory requirements and I attempt to describe some of this in this blog.

Several medical device directive (MDD) and active implantable medical device (AIMD) changes took place in 2010. This impacted multiple functions (e.g., Regulatory, risk management, technical communications) and had an effect on legacy, ongoing, and future products. For example, the crux of the MDD changes included:
  • Designing and manufacturing medical devices in such a way that when used under the conditions and for the purposes intended, they will not compromise the clinical condition or the safety of patients, or the safety and health of users.
  • Reducing the risk of use error due to the ergonomic features of the device and the environment in which the device is intended to be used.
  • Considering the technical knowledge, experience, education and training and where applicable the medical and physical conditions of intended users.
In summary, essential requirements related to human factors and ergonomics was added to MDD and AIMD.  As part of the MDD/AIMD work, two human factors engineering standards, EN 60601-1-6:2007 and EN 62366:2008 were harmonized and was in effect.

 So, what is EN 62366? 
  • This is a ‘process standard’, that tells a manufacturer the process to  analyze, specify, design, verify and validate usability, as it relates to the safety of a medical device.
  • The standard focuses on the need to provide adequate usability such that the “risks resulting from normal use and use error are acceptable”.
  • The standard focuses on identifying and mitigating design-induced use error.
  • The standard discusses the need to validate primary operating functions.
  • Overall, this standard emphasizes a more formal human factors process that combines analytical and empirical methods to detect as well as mitigate use error.
  • The standard also requires the maintenance of a usability engineering file and associated documentation that human factors work was done. However, the process is scalable.

In 2011, FDA published a draft guidance on “Applying Human Factors and Usability Engineering to Optimize Medical Device Design” for comment purposes. The comment period is complete but the effectivity date for the guidance is still TBD. Overall the FDA draft guidance is very similar to EN62366.  However, some key differences exist:
  • The FDA draft guidance focuses on using analytical and empirical methods very early in the project lifecycle to identify and mitigate sources of use error.
  • There are clear expectations for handling, documenting, and resolving use errors.
  • The guidance discusses a human factors engineering summary report, which is very elaborate and prescriptive.
As a human factors advocate, I believe that irrespective of the regulatory driven requirements, human factors should be an integral part of the product development lifecycle in medical device industries (or any industry) so as to create products that are not only safe but also improve user workflow and efficiency.  

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Is pessimism good for older adults?

According to this article published in the Journal of ‘Psychology and Aging’, pessimism about the future can make older adults live more healthier and longer lives. The key excerpt from this article is summarized below:
  • An extensive longitudinal study was conducted with individuals aged 18 to 39 years old, 40 to 64 years old, and 65 years old and above, from 1993-2003. The individuals were asked to rate how satisfied they were with their lives and how satisfied they thought they would be in five years, using a 0-10 scale. This data was collected via in-person interviews.
  • There were interesting age related differences. Younger adults had more optimistic expectations about the future, middle aged adults had more stable expectations, and older adults had more pessimistic expectations about the future. Younger adults do not have much experience with life and therefore have a positive outlook, which helps them to pursue their goals. At middle-age, adults form a more realistic outlook of what to expect from life. Older adults perhaps have a more pessimistic attitude towards life compared to middle-aged and younger adults because they know that their time is limited and want to enjoy their present rather than expecting things to change in the future.
  • Interestingly, pessimism about the future among older adults was associated with a lower decline of health. In other words, a darker outlook on the future makes older adults live a more cautious life, contributing to better health outcomes.

Photo credit: Rhoda Baer, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, April 1, 2013

Responsive design

Mashable has termed 2013 as the year of responsive web design. According to this article:
  • We are in the post-PC era, where PC sales are falling while tablets and smartphones are in popular demand.
  • Supporting mobile web is very important because majority of the users prefer reading content in mobile web versus having a specific app.
  • With the plethora of devices that technology consumers interact with today, it is important to design a website in such a way that it is supported in multiple devices. The solution to this is responsive design.
  • In short, responsive web design is a term that is used to denote a design approach that aims at designing websites that provides an optimal reading experience across a range of devices, from desktop monitors to mobile phones to tablets, and a range of browsers.
  • So, how is this done? Responsive design uses media queries to determine the resolution of the device in which the website is being run and based on that resizes the image and the content.
  • The obvious advantage of the responsive design technique is that you need to create the website only once and it works on different devices. This does require planning ahead of time. Understanding the organizational layout, navigation and searching methods across the various device platforms helps to create web designs with the appropriate content and layout that will provide a good user experience across platforms.
Using this website, you can check out how your website would look in an iPhone, iPad, a small tablet, and a small phone.

Photo credit: Muhammad Rafizeldi, via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Uncovering drug interactions from search queries

In this video, Dr. Eric Horvitz, Distinguished Scientist at Microsoft Research, discusses how search queries in the web can give doctors and drug companies information on the side effects of drugs or even the interaction between different drugs that has been overlooked during clinical trials. The summary from this talk:
  • Nearly two-thirds of the people in the web are looking for health care information and to do self-diagnosis.
  • Dr. Horvitz and his collaborators used this search information to determine potential drug interactions from 82 million search queries on Bing, Google, and Yahoo.
  • They found that if a popular anti-depressant and a popular cholesterol-lowering drug are both taken by the same individual could cause a rise in blood sugar. 
  • Dr. Horvitz believes that this technique can be used to detect dangerous drug interactions earlier than the FDA's adverse event reporting system.
  •  The same line of reasoning can be applied beyond drugs to medical devices. For example, medical device companies can use this method for post-market surveillance, to understand the impact of medical devices on users and/or patients.
  • In short, the world wide web becomes a hub for health care.
Photo credit: J. Troha, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Too hot, too cold?

This is an interesting article by an environmental psychologist, discussing the role of temperature on knowledge work. Research has indicated that the most optimal temperature for doing office work is around 72 degree Fahrenheit. Besides the actual temperature, human perceptions of temperature are also influenced by environmental design characteristics such as the colors of the walls, with rooms painted with warmer colors perceived as being warmer. Value systems also play a role in the perception of temperature. For example, if you are a conservationist, you may perceive the room to be much warmer compared to others.  

Seems like it is not such a good idea to keep the conference rooms so cold if you want your meetings to be productive!

Photo credit: Andy Butkaj (Flickr), via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Reducing the fear factor during medical procedures

This article in this month’s issue of ‘Monitor on Psychology’ describes how strategies such as distraction and exposure therapy can be employed to reduce anxiety among patients, specifically children, who face medical procedures.

The article talks about how anaesthesiologists are using cartoons help children stay calm in operating rooms.  Researchers are also exploring the usefulness of video games to reduce anxiety. In one study, researchers had one group of healthy children watch footage of the game ‘Finding Nemo’ while another group played the game. One hand of the children in both groups was immersed in ice-cold water. The study showed that the children who were actively engaged in the game showed more tolerance to the pain, compared to the children who only watched the video footage. Why is this the case? This is because actively playing the game requires the use of executive cognitive processes that reduce the perception of pain. Research is also underway to determine the type of games (e.g., action games, mellow games) that are most beneficial in reducing anxiety and manage painful medical procedures among children (and clearly, there will be individual differences).

Exposure therapy is also another technique that is used to lower anxiety levels. For example, simulated medical procedures are used to expose children to sights, sounds, and smells associated with the procedure as well as the equipment that will be used during a procedure. 

These techniques should be kept in mind when designing workflows and systems to create an optimal user experience for patients.

Photo credit: Danielle Grannan, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Warning Labels

This Forbes article provides a list of really amusing warning labels.  From a label on an egg carton stating that the product may contain eggs to the label on a vanishing marker stating that it is advisable not to sign legal documents with the marker, these labels are really entertaining!

So, what can practitioners do to develop meaningful warning messages? This paper provides guidelines for developing warning messages for products. The highlights include: 
  • Use less text
  • Explicitly tell users what to do
  • Use simple words and not technical jargon
  • Use words such as ‘danger’, ‘warning’, and ‘caution’ to signify the hazard level
  • Avoid abbreviations
  • Bullet the steps
  • Use active voice 
  • Use mixed case and not all CAPS
  • Left justify text
  • Orient messages to facilitate reading from left to right

Monday, February 25, 2013

Working memory

In this blog, I am summarizing the key points from the chapter on Working Memory from the Handbook of Applied Cognition.
So, what is working memory?
  • Working memory plays an important role in human cognition and refers to the ability to actively maintain information in order to accomplish a task.
  • The concept of working memory was first introduced by Baddeley and Hitch in 1974 (See Figure above). Their model of working memory consists of a central executive and two slave systems: the phonological loop, which maintains verbal information, and the visuospatial sketchpad, which maintains visual information. The slave systems have limited capacity and the content stored there decays without rehearsal. The central executive can be viewed as an entity that supervises the functioning of the slave systems and activities such as task-switching and multi-tasking is possible because of it.
  • Other theoretical models of working memory also exist.

 Is working memory capacity limited?
  • The answer is ‘yes’.
  • In 1956, George Miller proposed the ‘magic number’ of 7 plus or minus 2, according to which humans can keep track of 5 to 9 pieces of information.
  • More recent work by Cowan has shown that working memory capacity is even more limited and that humans can attend to only 4 pieces of information at once.

Overload of working memory is responsible for performance failures. There are also individual differences in working memory capacity. This begs the question as to whether working memory be improved and the answer is ‘yes’. Extensive training within a domain, use of strategies (e.g., rehearsal, imagery), attention process training, and repeated practice on executive tasks can be employed to improve working memory capacity.

Working memory demands on an operator can be reduced through design by:
  •  Helping users integrate multiple pieces of information
  • Reducing the amount of irrelevant information presented
  • Reducing the amount of information that needs to be mentally transformed 

Photo credit: Kurzon, traced by User: Stannered, via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Understanding nutritional information

This article published by the FDA explains how to understand and interpret the nutrition facts label.

My simplified version of how to interpret nutrition facts is listed below:
  • Look at the Calorie content.
  • Determine whether you are planning to eat the whole jar or just a serving. If you plan on eating the whole jar, multiply the serving size by the calorie per serving to get the total number of calories.  Most people forget to do this math and the calories add up!
  • Now look at the total fat, cholesterol, and sodium: All these need to be low.
  • Now,  look at vitamins, minerals, and calcium: All these need to be high.
  • The footnote at the bottom tells us the recommended daily intake for the key nutrients. Comparing where the jar is in relation to the daily intake is no easy task. 
In summary, there is a lot of information synthesis that one has to perform during grocery shopping. If you are like me and want to get out of the grocery store as fast as possible, parsing through nutritional facts will be inconvenient.

What are some areas that need to be changed to make interpretation of nutritional information more efficient? 
  • Make it easy (or apparent) to do the math (total calorie computation).
  • Use color or symbols to give the correct big picture – is the product good for your health?
  • Make it easy to determine what key nutrients the food provides in relation to the total recommended intake for a day.
  • Make it easy to determine what nutrients are lacking.
  • Make it easy to determine the key ingredients. Culprits such as high fructose corn syrup and monosodium glutamate should be emphasized so that the consumer can make an informed decision.

 I bet the manufacturers are not going to like any of my design suggestions. 

This website has a lot of very interesting design concepts. I suppose someone thought about this before me.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Communicating with lamps

This article talks about how you can use lamps to stay connected with your loved ones.  The idea is that through lamps that are connected via a Wi-Fi sensor, family members can communicate with each other in an ambient way. For example, when you turn off the master lamp in your home in New York, your mother’s lamp, which is in her home in Iowa, is also switched off.  This can serve as an indication to your Mother that you are going to sleep. Besides family members, project teams that are located globally can also use this to indicate their availability.

Now, this appears delightful but what benefits does this provide users beyond texting, video chatting, Instant Messaging, and telephoning? With technology at our fingertips, do we really need a lamp to communicate with each other? Perhaps, we do. Perhaps these lamps touch our senses uniquely.

Photo Credit: G.dallorto via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Redesigning Electronic Medical Records

Currently, electronic medical records (EMR) do not provide the medical history of patients in a coherent, comprehensive manner to clinicians. Though an improvement from traditional paper records, EMRs today are for the most part difficult to parse. This article describes the results of a competition aiming at redesigning patient medical records, in which more than 200 design teams participated. The aim of this competition was to identify designs that will
  •  Have a simple visual layout
  •  Make it easier for clinicians to comprehend patient data
  • Make it easier for patients  (and their families) to manage their health

Several interesting design ideas were proposed and can be viewed here.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

To Scroll or not Scroll is the Question

According to this article in Human Factors, scrolling negatively affects the comprehension of complex text in online environments. The negative impact of scrolling is more profound in people with low working memory capacity, caused due to difficulty in integrating information regularly or due to disorientation during reading.

To promote better comprehension and learning in online environments, it is beneficial to organize information in a paginated form with meaningful subheadings.

Photo Credit: Erik Baas, via Wikimedia Commons. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Robots for Safe Sports

In a recent article in the Jet Airways in-flight magazine, I read how the Qatar Camel Racing Federation is using robots as camel jockeys for camel races. The robot mounted on a camel, is equipped with cameras, and is controlled by a human who follows in a truck. The robot responds to the commands transmitted via radio control by the human controller. You can watch a video of this here.

In the past, child jockeys participated in these camel races and they fell off the camels frequently and were trampled by the camels. This article describes the camel racing injuries among children. It is therefore nice to see how robotic technology is used in this traditional sport to promote safety. 

Interestingly, the earlier robot designs frightened the camels and more human-like features were added to the robot to make it less intimidating or confusing to the camel.

Photo Credit: Lars Plougmann from London, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Motivational Psychology in Reducing Accidents

In today’s ‘The Times of India’, I read an article on how the accident rate involving buses has diminished in the state of Andhra Pradesh. This reduction in bus accidents is attributed to a recent initiative by the local government, which involves placing the driver’s family photograph on the dashboard. The idea is that, with the family photograph, drivers are primed about their families and motivated to return home safely to their loved ones, which presumably increases their vigilance on the road.  

Though this is not a controlled study and there is no means to conclude with confidence that the reduction in the number of accidents is due to the psychological impact on the driver, the literature does suggest that motivation has the potential to initiate and maintain goal-directed behavior and therefore improve driver performance.