The New York Times has an excellent investigative report into radiation treatment errors. They tell the story of two patients who died due to errors, and report on the frequency of these events. Sadly the errors usually look preventable in hindsight. And predictably, manufacturers of the machines blame the technicians who operate the machines, when in truth a main cause is bad software design without proper attention to safety and usability practices.
He links to this site where people share captchas that are unreadable by humans: I Hate Word Verifications. (The KK example in the previous post is one where I could read it just fine but for some reason the system wouldn't accept my answer.)
The US is once again demonstrating its supremacy when it comes to screwing up elections (with technology). Kim Zetter at Wired's Threat Level blog is tracking problems with electronic voting machines in early voting. That blog is a good jumping-off point for lots of other coverage. Regarding touchscreens in particular I posted more at my other blog.
I'm back from CHI and will be posting notes about it over the coming weeks (I am so not a live-blogger). There were a number of sessions that I think will be of interest to readers of this blog, starting with Bill Buxton's fantastic closing plenary. He threw out the canned talk he had planned to give and instead improvised along the theme of "Being Human in a Digital Age."
The level of discourse about technology, and human-computer interfaces in particular, is awful. He contrasted two articles he and he wife were reading on a plane recently: hers was a review of an art exhibit, his a review of the $100 laptop (OLPC). Hers was deeply written and considered the exhibit within social, historical, and philosophical contexts -- something that's just naturally a part of art criticism; his talked about technical specs and barely considered the human context of the device. We don't have a well-developed practice of "interaction criticism" (a theme that popped up elsewhere at CHI too). HCI professionals should take time out to write for a public audience.
Creativity requires a culture that values it. This is a theme he has written about earlier in a short article "What if Leopold Didn't Have a Piano?" Mozart was a genius, but the culture he was born into valued and supported creativity -- if it didn't he might have grown up instead to be the greatest sausage maker in Salzburg. Our current emphasis on individuality risks losing these values.
There is a lot of choice in how we design and use technology. Culture can change.
Good design is aware of its history. Jonathan Ives doesn't just invent things for Apple, he borrows creatively from history (and this is a good thing). All new technologies percolate for at least 20 years before they become big -- Buxton's "Long Nose of Innovation" theory.
Much of Buxton's HCI work has simply been aimed at getting back to where we were. In the 1970s he worked at the National Film Board of Canada editing soundtracks using one of the most sophisticated and usable computer systems yet built (two-handed, mouse, chord keyboard, graphical display). Since then he's been trying to achieve what its designers had already done back than. Buxton's chapter in the book HCI Remixed talks about this: My Vision Isn't My Vision: Making a Career Out of Getting Back to Where I Started.
I recently started a new blog related to what I work on in my day job: usability aspects of touch interfaces. If you have an interest in
touch interface research or usability engineering I invite you to check it
out: Touch Usability.
A few more suggestions (these might be rare but are really annoying!):
Don't limit the number of tries people get. Okay, maybe there's some rationale for limiting it to, say, 100 to stop automated password sniffers, but limiting it to three is just silly.
Don't use an account number as a user ID. That makes it easy for the site to keep unique user IDs, but it forces the user to search through their e-mail every time they want to log in. Ironically, this mistake is committed on the member site of the Usability Professionals Association.
Don't change your system every two months. It seems like every time I log in to some places they've got a new set of challenge questions, pictures, or some crap that just makes the whole thing slower and more frustrating.
I have had the worst web page sign-in experiences with medical sites. I love that I can now access my records and communicate with my doctor online, but it's so difficult to remember how to log in and I do it so infrequently that it's a struggle every time. Part of the reason may be the US HIPAA privacy regulations (which are
certainly important, don't get me wrong). My doctor's site has extremely strict requirements for passwords and user IDs, and the only way you can get a reminder is by snail mail (and actually they assign you a new password, so you can't sign in if you happen to remember it before the mail arrives). So what happens to me is I'll get a phone message or email that just says "you have a message -- please log in." I try to log in and fail, so I request a reminder. Two weeks later I receive a new password in the mail but by that point I've already called them so I don't need to log in. The letter with the new password gets buried (or I choose a new password and forget it) and then months later I go through the whole thing again. Granted I'm not the most organized person in the world, but this still seems tougher than it should.