HCI Human Factors

Aviation, Human Factors, Automation and Modes

As a design community, we tend to forget how User Centred Design is not only employed in building customer-facing experiences. UCD and Human Factors are also used to design plane cockpits, submarine and nuclear power plant C&C rooms. The latest episode of 99pi does a great job of explaining why designing for automation can mean the difference between life and death.
Human Factors have a long history in Aviation. The first Human Factor studies were carried out during WWII, and focused on incidents related to human error and such. With the advent of automation, one of the key roles of Human Factors has always been to design automation in such a way that human lives would not be in danger, or at least reducing the risk of that happening.

I was lucky enough to work tangentially to Human Factor design professionals for a few years at Thales, and look at decision support system, naturalistic decision making, Abstraction hierarchies and all that sort of things.

With automation playing an increasing role in a number of areas, think of self driving cars, what can history teach us in designing such interactive systems? Automation can be a double-edged scimitar; when it works it’s great, but when it fails it leaves the pilot with a serious lack of hands-on experience in flying the plane.

Automation can prevent mistakes caused by inattention, fatigue, and other human shortcomings, and free people to think about big-picture issues and, therefore, make better strategic decisions. Yet, as automation has increased, human error has not gone away: it remains the leading cause of aviation accidents.

From a New Yorker article: The Hazards of Going on Autopilot

The more a procedure is automated, and the more comfortable we become with it, the less conscious attention we feel we need to pay it. In Schooler’s work on insight and attention, he uses rote, automated tasks to induce the best mind-wandering state in his subjects. If anyone needs to remain vigilant, it’s an airline pilot. Instead, the cockpit is becoming the experimental ideal of the environment most likely to cause you to drift off.

In the cockpit, as automated systems have become more reliable, and as pilots have grown accustomed to their reliability—this is particularly the case for younger pilots, who have not only trained with those systems from the outset of their careers but grown up in a world filled with computers and automation—they have almost inevitably begun to abdicate responsibility on some deeper level.”

Enjoy the 99pi podcast, ‘Children of the Magenta

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HCI Mobile UX Speech Interaction

Do Androids dream in Verse?

a great article from Joscelin Cooper, former UX Writer at Google :

As technology becomes more pervasive and gains access to greater amounts of our personal data, how can we design successful human-machine conversations? Should user interface text approximate the lilt, flow, and syntax of human speech? Or does humanizing UI conversations create a false intimacy that distances even as it attempts to foster familiarity?

The answer, of course, is that it depends. Most of us have encountered voice-automated customer service systems. Some of them, in an effort to make their robot customer reps less droid-like, feature voices that try to approximate human diction. A calm, often female voice pauses, suggests brightly, bridges her prompts with almost-ums. Her attempts at realness further underscore the fact that she is fake, blocking you from an actual human encounter.

A computer that cheerfully calls you by your first name can either delight you or creep you out, depending on the circumstances. Just as robots enter the uncanny valley when they seem too human, a user interface that’s too familiar can push people away. The copy needs to strike the right balance.

Read the remainder of the article on A List Apart


Back to the NordiCHI – the ’06 edition

It is difficult to summarise the experience I had this year at the NordiCHI06, but I think the underlying theme was the challenge represented by emergent uses of constellations of technologies, that go beyond the capabilities of a UCD approach, in the way we are used to think about it. This underlying theme was touched in the first and the last keynotes of NordiCHI, respectively from Susanne Bødker and Jonathan Grudin.

The 'auditoriet' at Oslo Congress Centrum

The enlightening keynote of Bødker explores the dialectics between two generations (‘waves’) of HCI technologies and research. Second wave HCI begins with the introduction of second wave technologies (i.e. the development of the STAR interface, its document-centric metaphors and all that followed). Second wave HCI therefore deals with graphical user interfaces, work-based practices and places its locus of attention on the context of use.

The third wave HCI is different because it is connected to the introduction of pervasive (i.e. mobile devices) and ubiquitous (i.e. intelligent environments) devices. Therefore, third wave HCI looks more at mobile and home interactions with technologies and it is mainly interested on pleasure and emotion of usage.

Bødker is concerned with the lack of real interest in user involvement from the third wave HCI and suggests a dialectic reconciliation (a synthesis) between the two approaches. With its focus on the home, on leisure, emotion etc. the third wave specifically seems to want to separate these types of activities from rationally-bounded work activities, which were the focus of the second wave. Bødker argues that we need to design technologies and services that cross these boundaries and that allow a mediation between these two worlds.

The main concept behind this key note is indeed ‘multi-mediation’, which refers to the emergent aspects of using multiple artefacts across different contexts, work and leisure. HCI should never design single, monolithic devices or systems but technology that must be seen and used in relation to many other devices, applications and systems. ‘Webs-of technology’ are used to describe ubiquitous interaction as a process of negotiation between the users and the technology, focussing on the availability of technology and interpretability of services. The concept of multi-mediation has its roots into activity theory and semiotics and connects the communicative and instrumental aspects of technology usage. Bødker notes that third wave technologies should support learning experience and reflectivity and lead to the re-configurability of technology in the hands of human actors.

The third and last keynote was from Jonathan Grudin, Microsoft Research and dealt with the increasing trend towards lightweight technologies for Knowledge Management (KM). How this challenge will be addressed by HCI? It was the opinion of the speaker – and mine as well – that HCI didn’t deal yet with the implications of the emergent, combined usage of these tools (i.e. weblogs, wikis, RSS).

Grudin compared this situation to the first ’80, when HCI practitioners failed to recognise the big change coming from the diffusion of GUIs (Xerox Star, Mac) which made Command Line Interfaces rapidly obsolete.

Grudin identified three issues with current KM appraoches that might be addressed by these technologies.

  1. Capturing and sharing knowledge with document repositories just didn’t work. Private weblogs are being increasingly used for business purpose. Employees are starting to communicate with colleagues, customers and other parties outside of the enterprise. Wiki are good for multiple authorships, but can be demanding in the longer term. Wiks have proved to be effective for definite, fixed-term projects, where clearly defined roles already exist.
  2. While ontology-based approaches have failed in capturing the structure of knowledge, folksonomies can provide a bottom-up alternative approach.
  3. Expert locators have failed to provide as well a mechanism for exchanging knowledge inside of organisations. People are afraid of asking to an expert, and experts are unwilling of being disturbed each day by questions concerning their work. People are just looking for someone who knows ‘a bit more’ then them. Social networking tool could be an alternative approach.

There were many other interesting things of course in the course of the conference, and NordiCHI , in my opinon, effectively supports an on-going dialogue between design practices and HCI research.

I am looking forward to NordiCHI08, in Sweden…

Credits: The pictures in this article have been posted on FlickR by ‘xt1’


Impact factor of HCI journals

I was looking for some sources of Science Citation Index impact factor, and I found the following two resources:

It seems that the most important journal in the HCI arena is Human-Computer Interaction, followed by:

  1. User Modeling And User-Adapted Interaction
  2. Interacting With Computers
  3. International Journal Of Human-Computer Studies

I also found a very interesting article on the evolution of the HCI field, based on the co-citation analysis.