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