Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Avatar Imax 3D - very good user experience

If you are going to see Avatar (and do), get there early and get a good seat. I was near the front and to one side, and the 3D didn't work naturally all the time. The plot and characterisation is better than Titanic but maybe not as good as Terminator 2. I was easily swept along and fully engaged by the film. The presence of real actors makes it a real film rather than an animated film. The world on Pandora is amazing, the visual experience is terrific. There were some very young kids in the audience, who were more upset than impressed.

Forecast for the coming depression

Political atrophy in the West, Solar Cycle 24, Peak Oil, the Western debt crisis, shifting demographics, and the move of power from West to East makes for a heady mixture. Generally unpleasant and with plenty of potential for extremely unpleasant instability. Forecasting emergent properties of such a complex system is unwise but seasonal. Here goes. Links might get added at a future date.

The US will have a jobless recovery. The UK will have a jobless non-recovery. Europe will sort itself out economically but not politically.

Our very tenuous hold on technology will lose its grip from time to time on a global scale. Hopefully in computing rather than genetic engineering.

The books of the coming decade are, alas, Brave New War and Globalistan. Much more of mankind will return to its natural state (war, rather than peace - JCF Fuller).

Some flows:

In the West, the flow of money has been from the mainstream to the very rich. After the fall of the Shah, his folly in hollowing out the middle classes was highlighted. The vampire squid community has the arrogance and ignorance to believe they will avoid such a fall. They are wrong.

The traditional energy-intensive industrial flows of making things, and moving materials and people will be severely tested by pricing, shortage and climate. In pruning terms, a 'thirding'. Those that adopted real lean practices and the mantras of the dot com era (think global act local, network or die) will be best placed to survive. Airlines and newspapers are the ones in focus now, but hotels and tourism, more general publishing, building, shipping, car manufacture etc will all be affected more and faster than they themselves think right now. The flow of materials has acquired two disruptions. Firstly, lots of it will flow East rather than West, and the West doesn't have the money for a Plan B (expensive food and energy through cold winters will certainly focus the mind, but the wallet will remain empty). Secondly, the dispossessed will become empowered to prevent such flows (See John Robb e.g. on MEND as a template).

The communications flows are really starting to change.

In John Boyd terms, the Western political elite has achieved moral and mental isolation from the populace, and there is no flow of ideas or values. It is 'The Plan' or hell in a handbasket for Western politics. Probably the latter, alas. The show at Westminster will be unrecognisable in five years time. Unfortunately most of the new entrants will be from the same isolated, clueless elite and Parliament will be completely unable to cope with changed circumstances. Douglas Carswell (on the right) and perhaps Frank Furedi (on the left) seem to see this and have something to offer. Pocket money on political betting should be distributed among whatever really long odds are on offer.

State-run higher education has had its day. The flow of ideas and knowledge between the young and the old will by-pass the State-run universities more or less completely.

Commercial communication based around 'brand' has become obsolete. Tiger Woods may become seen as the turning point, reflecting its lack of authenticity, its shallowness and its irrelevance. User-centred innovation around social objects (Hugh MacLeod at gapingvoid) has won. Madison Avenue just doesn't know it yet. Celebrity 'culture' is in its death throes but will become much more bizarre before going. In other respects, Web 2.0 will continue to devour everything as it has been doing.

As regards moral flows, repelling islamism will become more and more pressing. The only force that could enable Western civilisation to survive is the power of Christ. Christianity will either save the West (again) or die with it. Perhaps Rowan Williams could take retirement immediately and let John Sentamu run things. The Pope seems to be on the case.

Finally a wish; that the HSE pilots a repeal of the Taylor reforms for the wider Bootle area, enabling Goodison and Anfield to become economically viable and to restore the Kop for the Shankly Centenary.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Christmas Crackers

Some reading for the Christmas break.

Charles Stross has a wonderful big-picture overview about mobile phones, Google and Apple.

Mark Coleran has assembled screenshots of his work on Fantasy User Interfaces.

Not at all festive, but a wonderful post by Edward Harrison at Barry Ritholtz on "The recession is over but the depression has just begun."

A wonderful insight into how to treat complexity (or not) in Afghanistan. Very entertaining article and do download the powerpoint. Winning the War through Powerpoint.

And of course, the campaign to bring back The Mogambo Guru.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Integration, resilience and specialization in meeting the user experience

Information Arbitrage has a very interesting post on vertical integration. It, and the comments, go wider than vertical integration, into what sorts of organizational structures are best able to support an experience economy and keep up with user needs and aspirations driving technology. The author, Roger Ehrenberg has moved from a firm belief in a tight organizational focus and specialization, citing Apple as an example of how having tight control over hardware and software enables them to provide a user experience not matched by Dell/Intel/Microsoft. His case for integration is based on speed. My suspicion is that flexibility in investment, freedom from IPR wrangles and the ability to move resources are more important than organizational speed. The need for flexibility and redundancy in supply chains is discussed. There are some very good comments.

The move to deglobalisation or reglobalisation with much less material travelling round the world (especially with slow steaming) looks quite likely.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

HCD for dementia care

Gerry Robinson is doing two programmes for BBC2 on re-designing dementia care. The first one was wonderful and is on iplayer. The second one is 15th Dec 2009.

The revolution in dementia care is understanding the patient experience and looking at care from the patient's point of view, using an activity logging approach called care mapping. Apparently this is a radical thing to do. So it is, in terms of the' service provision' community.

The regulator, of course, is concerned with box-ticking and paperwork rather than the Quality In Use of care. It would not be hard to adapt HCD standards and apply them to service delivery such as dementia care, to the immense benefit of all parties.

He shows that good care is attractive to relatives and helps the bottom line in privately-run care homes.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Clarkson is right about the internet

This blog does not intend to become a Jeremy Clarkson fanzine, but the man has the impact of the internet exactly right.

"It’s a monster. An invisible machine over which mankind has absolutely no control. We can’t even turn it off."

This is a nihilist view compared to Kevin Kelly's view of the Technium as an unruly child but similar in view. Kevin Kelly:
"We don't quite appreciate it yet, but our child, technology, is more powerful than we its parents are. "

Clarkson's post about Murdoch vs. google seems, like most material on this topic, to miss the main point. How did the very-savvy newspaper industry let its advertising revenue go to google? I used to know a newspaper advertising manager (Bob's dad), and the importance of raising advertising revenue used to be fully understood. What happened?

Great piece by Clay Shirky from March 2008.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

HCD and regulation

Following the failure of financial regulation in the UK and US, it is clear that regulation (and de-regulation) are going to be hot topics for some time to come. How would a systems-thinking HCD person design a regulatory system? it ought not to be too difficult, given the historic links between socio-technical systems and cybernetics.
Off the top of my head it might look like the following:
  • identify the stakeholders
  • define relevant systems with CATWOE
  • do a context of use analysis of the key stakeholders
  • expand stakeholders into a set of personas
  • 'brainstorm' issues and likely emergent properties
  • assign actions using the Cynefin framework.
The HSE 'be part of the solution' strategy document contains a great deal of material that would be useful and which could start a task analysis and a user analysis.

The recent Conservative document on 'Regulation in the Post Bureaucratic Age' offers some clear material on how the relevant systems might be re-defined, together with other ideas.

I could not find anything helpful at all in the recent BIS document on better regulation. This blog intends to stay clear of politics, so it is best to say nothing about the report.

Regulators may not like being in the spotlight, and this may be a taste of things to come for some of them.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Learning from weak signals

Michael Krigsman's excellent blog has a post about learning from the weak signals of failure. Well worth a read, and illustrates the synergy between good management from a commercial point of view and from a safety point of view. Being able to give senior managers bad news is key to both.

He also has a link to a classic Dilbert cartoon.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Usability Assurance

A post to introduce usability assurance. The aim of ergonomics in this context is to provide assurance that a system or product will be operable by those who are intended to use and maintain it.

The approach was first proposed by the US General Accounting Office (1981) "What assurances are there that weapon systems developed can be operated and maintained by the people who must use them?" supported by an assessment toolkit.

Basic premise

An organisation with clear HCD processes is likely to produce usable products. An organisation where HCD is unclear is likely to produce unusable products.

If we wait until after the system is designed to find out how easy it is to use, it is usually too expensive to make improvements.

What is it that leads to ease of use? The answer is Human Centred Design (HCD). An organisation that has well-defined processes for HCD can be fairly sure of producing a usable system. An organisation with ad hoc processes is likely to produce a system that is hard to use.

[Note: ‘process’ means a continuing area of concern, or a collection of related responsibilities. It does not mean ‘method’ or ‘series of steps’].

A health check (process assessment), followed by business-driven process improvement will reduce the risk of an unusable system being developed.

What is new(ish)

Having the means of assessing the capability of an organisation to deliver a usable system. This provides a lead indicator to use as a management tool, in addition to the more traditional assessments of product characteristics and its resulting performance in achieving user goals.

Although process models in the form of HCD Standards have been published since about 2000, their use as process models has been limited, and they have mostly been used for guidance. The opportunities for assessing capability are considerable, and would be extremely cost-effective e.g. to support purchasing or licensing decisions.

The ergonomist’s point of view

A metaphor for life: There is always room at the bottom

Many ergonomists are committed to an entirely technical career and have no aspirations to management. Usability assurance is not really for them. The consequence of staying technical is of course that you will be ignored, overruled and brought in when it is too late to do anything useful, but not too late to demonstrate that ergonomics can fail.

For those ergonomists who would like to be in a position to influence corporate or project management, usability assurance is the way to go (up).

The customer’s point of view

Quality In Use is defined as: The degree to which a product used by specific users meets their needs to achieve specific goals with effectiveness, efficiency, safety and satisfaction in specific contexts of use.

Achieving Quality In Use sounds like ‘reason for purchase’. For the customer, it is vital to find the correct supplier(s). Once the wrong team is under contract, there is very little that can be done. An assessment of capability before the contract is placed eliminates a huge amount of risk. A self-assessment eliminates some more. Mandated process improvement in the contract (yes, it has been done) can mitigate the remainder. Demanding HF deliverables, or HF specialist involvement does little on its own to mitigate any risk.

The project manager’s point of view

ISO 13407 is the key standard for HCD and was written with the project manager in mind. The HCD process models support this and give the project manager the tools to know where the risks are ahead of time. This is a big change. Up to this point, ergonomists have represented a cost and a risk – albeit with some potential benefits for the end user and the customer organisation. This is why ergonomics is so hard to sell. Usability assurance is the first development that makes ergonomics attractive from a project management point of view.

The engineer’s point of view

For many softare engineers, saying “we have CMM for Human Factors” produces instant and complete understanding. Software engineering has had capability evaluations for about fiteen years. More generally, the process models focus on the needs of the project, rather than the needs of the ergonomist, and consequently make integration easier. The HCD principle of multi-disciplinary teamwork helps too. The flexibility provided by a process approach, (compared to say a Human Factors Integration Plan without a process overview) becomes important in a rapid development context.

The user’s point of view (last as usual)

Of course, one of the principles of HCD is “the active involvement of users and a clear understanding of user and task requirements”, so some users are going to be involved. For them, the usability assurance approach gives them an overview of how things are going, which enables them to judge their input appropriately. For the other users (not directly involved),

For users involved in the design process e.g. as participants in usability trials, the assurance approach gives them an idea of the risks associated with what is coming down the line.

Note on alphabet soup

The standards numbers quoted are all changing and becoming part of ISO 9241, but that is still in progress, and some readers may be familiar with the numbers used here.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Turtle Wrench

This really does look brilliant.

An article on it with more pictures is at Yanko Design.

"You take this “Turtle Wrench,” right, and you attach it to your wheel: it connects to all of your wheel bolts at once. Now the wrench has four arms sticking out, one of them each a wrench that correlates with a bolt. You drive forward one full rotation, and as you push forward each wrench, it loosens a bolt."

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Software Truth Commission

The Software Truth Commission videos are well worth watching. If only it were real.

How do you like your innovators?

I have had innovators boiled and roast. Most of the innovators I have met are pretty hard-boiled, but these ones were fine.

Is this cannibalism?

"Fluffy mash" sounds more like ergonomics than innovation.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Prince Philip on design and ergonomics

Brief pointer to Prince Philip's longstanding interest in design and ergonomics.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Global cost of poor HCD in IT

Roger Sessions has a great post on the cost of IT failure. His estimate, including direct costs and lost opportunity costs, is USD 6.18 Trillion. Almost enough to make a banker interested.

How much of this could have been prevented by applying Human Centred Design , usability assurance? Perhaps half?

For the UK, his figures (in B USD) are
GDP 2260
Cost of IT failure 200

If usability represented about 10% of IT spend, then in the UK it would be a USD 6B business. So, at say 1.5 dollars to the pound, and GBP 150k per usability person (including overheads etc.) that would be 28,000 usability people in the UK. Some room for growth there, I suspect.

His numbers come from WITSA. I didn't find the document. A google search of the site found 1 reference to the word usability (not a particularly focused reference) and none to ergonomics.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Regulatory capture is not hard to spot.
"Executives at Britain’s broadcasting watchdog are wined and dined by television companies, foreign dignitaries and advertisers almost every day of the week, official documents show."

The consequences are not hard to find.
In a rushed consultation .... the BBC will prohibit millions of people from programming their existing set top boxes. If implemented this will make it difficult to view or record HDTV broadcasts with free software. Where’s the consumer interest in that settlement?

But who shall guard the watchman? Tom Watson seems to be having a go at it, and Parliament is undoubtedly the right place.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

User-centred design vs. expert-centred design

The rather tacky graphic above is an adaptation of a figure in Edgar H Schein's Process Consultation. I have used versions of it for about the last 30 years. I am posting it unimproved, prompted by annoyance at the abuse of the term user-centred design in a post by Liz Sanders that was revived in the Design for Service blog. She seems to think that user-centred design and participatory design are mutually exclusive. Not so. The ISO standards on Human Centred Design certainly support particpatory design.

For my money, the further right a project can move on the diagram above, the better.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Monday, 14 September 2009

Customer Satisfaction, Share Price, Quality of Service

Work led by Claes Fornell has shown that customer satisfaction is a lead indicator of share price. The well-established links between customer satisfaction and corporate value do not seem to be exploited by the usability community. Example papers can be found here, here and here.

Findings by his company in the UK are reported here. Familiar faces do well; Toyota, Virgin. In the UK mobile field, Tesco Mobile seems to be doing well. Given the solid nature of Fornell's survey methods, it seems surprising that OFCOM doesn't use them. NIH perhaps?

To quote from a 2006 paper,

" Specifically, the authors find that customer satisfaction, as measured by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), is significantly related to market value of equity.Yet news about ACSI results does not move share prices. This apparent inconsistency is the catalyst for
examining whether excess stock returns might be generated as a result. The authors present two stock portfolios:
The first is a paper portfolio that is back tested, and the second is an actual case. At low systematic risk, both outperform the market by considerable margins. In other words, it is possible to beat the market consistently by investing in firms that do well on the ACSI."

Knowing your users vs. being nosey

I am learning Inkscape. Two reasons. Firstly, since Smartdraw and Fireworks got ruined, I have needed to find a decent vector graphics package that does not require too much learning. Secondly, when can I use sees .svg being usable in a year or two, and it will take me that long to learn the package. I heartily recommend it. Anyway, I wanted to buy the manual. This is not open source, and comes from InformIT. When I get to the checkout,I have the choice of answering 14 questions, including salary, age, gender, type of work, or 'just create my account'.

Obviously, I choose the latter. Amazon don't ask questions like that. It doesn't work. I use the 'contact us' to tell them it doesn't work, and get an email from PTG (Pearson Educational Customer Technical Support) (fortunately I opened it rather than treating it as spam) telling me I have to answer (some of) their questions if I want to buy the book, but not admitting they insist I have to answer all of them.

Inkscape needs to find a better publisher.

Pearson need to understand the difference between obsessive market data-gathering, and being customer-focused. In my experience, companies are quite likely to choose going bust over making such a change.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Products, systems and services

The life cycle perspective of systems engineering has long considered the relation between system products and services. An example given by Stuart Arnold is of a bridge; it changes from being a civil enginering project to being a traffic engineering service.

Ergonomics has considered features beyond the central 'product' for a long time. John Hughes at IBM looked at the experience of receiving a Selectric typewriter, from how to design the box to be picked up safely, and unpacking the typewriter etc. (written up in Design Studies, but not showing up in the Scirus search - so much for peer-reviewed credibility).

Don Norman has written a nice piece on these lines called Systems Thinking: A Product Is More Than the Product. It covers packaging and support; very different in the eyes of the vendor organisation, but both part of the experience so far as the user is concerned.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Quality In Use for cabin baggage

Business travel for men requires suits, shirts, smart shoes. This means a wheelie-bag a) to look after same and b) because backpacks ruin suits.
I have had a cheap Carlton (wheel squeak was terrifying and above safe levels), expensive Tripp (fell apart), cheap frameless case (zip went), mid-price Muji (lovely, but telescopic mechanism jammed - shut fortunately). I don't know anyone who has cracked the problem. Having just ordered a new case, this is the situation as I see it.
User requirements
The trade-offs are between cost, weight, durability (or perceived durability), detail design (pockets, straps, handles, quality of zips, luggage tags), and satisfaction, presentation of self (social significance in Susan Boztepe's framework below).

Candidate designs
Fashionable and not given bad reviews
Briggs and Riley, Rimowa

Sensible and probably what I should have bought
Antler, Samsonite

Interesting but not for my business purposes
Tom Bihn
Eagle Creek
Cool Tools has a favourable review of Rick Steves Convertible Carry-on

Sounded great, but doubts about actual weight

What I bought
Sub-0-G (not least because it was half-price). I chickened out of the tiedot design and now have to work out how to make a black case stand out.

Useful places for advice
Tripadvisor (new forum)


Monday, 31 August 2009

Quality = ease of use

Pure Digital's Simon Fleming-Wood(Flip video camera) defines quality entirely in terms of ease of use. He says "We will always prioritize accessibility over features".

This appears in the Wired article 'The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple is Just Fine'.

The article says much that is not new. Which? magazine has been banging on for a long time about how people like VW Beetle (original not retro) technology and dislike 'featuritis'. However, it has some interesting observations about the potential for mini-clinics, which I suspect that the current NHS plans will not realise for us in the UK

We need some tools to be able to relate Quality In Use to price point; the usability community has kept itself 'pure' by ignoring the framing that price brings.

Augmented reality

Presselite has an iPhone app that combines information from google maps, GPS and the camera to give an augmented picture. The photo above shows a MacDonalds icon for the branch across the road. The image comes from a YouTube video that demonstrates the need for an anti-reflection coating on the iPhone. There was a time when my wife worked on military applications of this kind; the idea that you could just download them onto a phone was beyond imagining then.

Seero is a website for geo-broadcasting, which is an interesting development with lots of practical applications - the emergency services, for example.

However, my favourite is a mash-up by a Mr McQueen, of a car chase. He can drive, but has an odd spelling of Bullitt. Worth watching again just for the sound track. Purely in the interests of research, of course.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

User Value

In a fairly heavy piece in IDJ, Suzan Boztepe has a very nice graphic on categories of user value, copied above. A mapping to QIU would not be difficult; her scheme adds considerable richness, and is clearly the result of a lot of thought and analysis.

My favourite website

No one belongs here more than you by Miranda July.

Just follow the pink arrows at the bottom right. You didn't need me to tell you that.

Functional Surprise

From the Design Reaktor project in Berlin, comes the electronic ruler.

They say:
"The Digital ruler is a 15 cm wooden ruler, which uses technology of electric-resistance and measurement in order to calculate length of line or distance. Unlike any other ruler, it is relative, not absolute. The 0 point of the ruler is defined by every new measurement with any pen. Electronic Ruler is a functional surprising object, offering new ways of using an old device."

Starts to put paper charts on a par with electronic ones. We need more functional surprise.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Thinkin' about the future

Courtesy of Engineers without Fears, I found Katie Chatfield's visualisations of a talk by Bruce Sterling.

The talk is good (though quite long). However, I think the visualisations do more than convey the talk, and can be looked at quite quickly. Favela chic does not really appeal, I'm afraid. (Actually, the latter part of the Bruce Sterling talk had some very interesting insight and advice about what we should do as individuals, but this did not relate to 'where did the future go?')

Courtesy of Tony Collins, I read a piece on NHS IT's local future. The whole piece is good, but this extract shows that there are some signs that the wider context of use is starting to be recognised.

...The Tories made headlines recently by proposing personal health records - allowing patients easily to access, alter and control information about their own health on the internet.

Integrating a user-friendly interface with the rest of the NHS, as suggested by their name-checking of Microsoft and Google as potential providers, is likely to be some way off.

But many in health IT are convinced a solution must be found to enable the level of preventive and self care required to balance the NHS books in coming years.

Great Ormond Street’s work with children with rare and complex long term conditions often requires many parties, from families to a large range of health and social care professionals, to be kept informed.

David Bowen [of Great Ormond Street] says it had spent a long time looking for technology to aid the process but had found little inspiration within the NHS, and in the end turned to other sectors.

It is hoping systems such as corporate social networks will allow a set of authorised individuals to quickly contribute to and share information about a patient.

He says: “The implications of this are terrific. If we are going to afford healthcare in the future then patients and families have to do a lot for themselves.”

We know from Drucker that the customer is the place to start organisational change.

The Cognitive Edge community has a number of people involved in health care, because it has to change on funding grounds.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Boundaries of acceptable performance

Paul Shanahan congratulated me on my 'courage' (cf. 'Yes Minister') in using the original version of Rasmussen's 1997 contours of safe operation diagram. He was right, the diagram is very hard to communicate. Rob Miles has used Venn diagrams in a way that complemented Rasmussen's contours, and so I have devised some Miles-Rasmussen diagrams to illustrate the effects of technology, management and regulation.

In the first instance, the operating envelope is bounded by the limits of Crew Resource Management, business performance, and safety (plus environment and security). Note that this last limit is blurred, unlike the others. Going outside the operating envelope results in unsafe operation, crew overload or unacceptable business performance.

The sales pitch for technology

The sales pitch for technology is that it extends the boundary for safety, giving an extension to the operating envelope, and "look how small the unsafe operation area is now". This is of course nonsense.

Technology is probably neutral, and can be visualised as just making the whole space bigger. This does not mean that actual operation is safer; it might stay at the boundary of safe operation, but with improved business performance.

Generative management

Generative management (cf. Ron Westrum) does increase the operating envelope; this picture ties in with Rob Miles' diagrams showing that good management does not see safety and business performance opposing each other.

Zealous regulation

Tightening regulation (with everything else staying the same) leads to a smaller operating envelope and a big increase in the potential for 'violations'.

There is some more to come on how 'nudge' regulation could be made to work via the internet. Not today, though.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Vorsprung durch Technic

Fifty years on, CP Snow's 'Two Cultures' is alive and well. Technology is too important to be left to the technologists. It is also too important to be left to people with no knowledge and blind faith in technology = progress.

This post by Leg-Iron at Old Holborn is really scary, and well worth reading (it is short). The ease with which DNA evidence can be faked undermines the complete faith that people have in it.

For those too young to know CP Snow, the following quote may help.
"A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative."
C. P. Snow, 1959 Rede Lecture entitled "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution"

Big system drivers - The Silent Dictators

The wonderful Hazel Courteney wrote a paper with the title 'Project Requirements: the Silent Dictators' , inspiring the title for this post.
Testimony by Dr Robert Zubrin
included the following:

"Over the course of its history, NASA has employed two distinct modes of operation. The first prevailed during the period from 1961-1973, and may therefore be called the Apollo Mode. The second, prevailing since 1974, may usefully be called the Shuttle Era Mode (or Shuttle Mode, for short).

In the Apollo Mode, business is conducted as follows: First, a destination for human spaceflight is chosen. Then a plan is developed to achieve this objective. Following this, technologies and designs are developed to implement that plan. These designs are then built, after which the mission is flown.

The Shuttle Mode operates entirely differently. In this mode, technologies and hardware elements are developed in accord with the wishes of various technical communities. These projects are then justified by arguments that they might prove useful at some time in the future when grand flight projects are initiated.

Contrasting these two approaches, we see that the Apollo Mode is destination-driven, while the Shuttle Mode pretends to be technology-driven but is actually constituency-driven. In the Apollo Mode, technology development is done for mission-directed reasons. In the Shuttle Mode, projects are undertaken on behalf of various internal and external technical community pressure groups and then defended using rationales. In the Apollo Mode, the space agency’s efforts are focused and directed. In the Shuttle Mode, NASA’s efforts are random and entropic.


Comparing these two records, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that NASA’s productivity in both missions accomplished and technology development during its Apollo Mode was at least ten times as great as under the current Shuttle Mode."

H/T to Shlock Vaidya.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Unreal Meetings

Unreal meetings are familiar to most of us. These ones come from the MIT Sociable Media Group.
Not having head tracking in the home office I've not had much to do with Second Life, and I'd need to be convinced that virtual meeting spaces are better than good use of post-its (though there are many occasions when virtual meetings are becoming a necessity).

However, some interesting ideas, and we need to rember that the everday baseline is just awful.

"A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled."Sir Barnett Cocks

Saturday, 22 August 2009

User-Centred Innovation - reaching the laggards

User-centred innovation has been around for some years now (and will be one of the main themes of this blog). The diffusion of this approach appears to have become mature, to say the least, on the basis of a couple of recent developments.

NESTA have found the term and are taking baby steps in their lab; very welcome. If they can convince the public sector to listen to users for new ideas, it would be a big breakthrough.

The European Commission has recently finished a consultation on user-centred innovation (I know, chalk and cheese, but there we are). The consultation is based around a Commission Staff Working Document on 'design as a driver of user-centred innovation'. The document is a decent synopsis of policy and measurement issues. Their measurement problems could have been simplified immensely if they had known that there are International Standards aimed at doing much of what they want. I suspect that the authors were briefed to try and combine design-driven and user-driven approaches, which makes for some confusing writing in places.

Still, nice to see that user-centred innovation is no longer solely the province of smart companies.

Friday, 21 August 2009

How cheap airlines can be cheap and what you get for it

From FlowingData comes this great graphic by 5WGraphics (click on the picture to see all of it).

Some of the numbers at the bottom look like they are not independent e.g. seat density and utilization, but the ability to relate costs to aspects of quality in use is striking.

At a macro-system level, would having only cheap airlines lead to no new aircraft types?

Regulatory capture and Quality In Use

The Baseline Scenario has a great post on a research brief on the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which includes this gem:

"Since protecting large banks at the expense of consumers is the current goal of the regulatory structure, other goals such as collecting data on actual experiences of consumers (something researchers have a difficult time finding, and have to use poor substitutes like aggregate consumption diaries), having in-depth knowledge locally on scene, and fighting regulatory arbitrage among the current 11 agencies that investigate this material fall by the wayside."

Following the credit crunch, it will be interesting to see if the interest in regulation and its absence spreads to other sectors. More on this in future posts.

Only an expert...

Great song. The words have 'experts' nailed. Truly great artist.

Service from ISPs and mobile phone operators. Do we just give up?

Quality of service has not been a factor in OFCOMs regulation of mobile phones and ISPs. Accordingly, this has not been a factor of concern for most providers.

From a user point of view, it is almost impossible to know what the provider would be like until you are tied up into a contract. There is advice from ADSLguide for broadband, but it is still hard to decide. From my own experience, there are now no mobile phone operators with decent customer service, following the offshoring and collapse of the once-wonderful Virgin Mobile.
OFCOM has looked at Quality of Service, and set up a comparison website, which seems to be completely useless.

OFCOM says that price is the most important factor, but recognises that Quality of Service is also important. Price is something that can be compared before a purchase decision, while Quality In Use is much harder to get information on until it is too late.

In June, OFCOM decided to withdraw topcomm.

Does this mean that it is official that mobile and ISP service will always be cr*p? Or, is there hope that OFCOM might be interested in hearing about Human-Centred Design, Quality In Use, and the established means that exist for providing assurance?

Reliable Judgements

Delighted to see the Safety Critical Systems Club talking about reliability of judgements.

This is critical. Judgements by senior designers, managers, assessors is where the big mistakes get stopped, and where they happen. The topic has received very little attention, given its importance.

I wonder how much of James Montier's work they have transferred from the financial sector? How far into the J/DM literature have they probed?

There was a very nice piece recently transferring sports psychology to the financial sector, aimed at making dealing more reliable. The 'Rules' could be readily adapted into a really useful aide-memoire.

However, I don't propose to try and sell theSafety Critical Systems community a meteor.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Ergonomics and the precautionary principle

From Euractive via CCNet

A David Zaruk is pointing to the cost of the precautionary principle e.g. in REACH and environmental matters. "Before, scientists could develop an innovation and market it, after it was up to others to prove and test that it is dangerous. Now, you need to prove something is safe before it can be marketed."

"Precaution was created as a tool for policy, by those who think science has gone too far," Zaruk argued.

"Precautionary logic entails that not being right is not the same as being wrong. In other words, if you use the precautionary principle, you are never wrong," he continued, stressing that "for policymakers, it is much more attractive to never be wrong than to take the risk and be right."

"We need a little bit of political courage. Precaution is a policy tool for cowards, because if you are never wrong, you don't have to take risks or be responsible for any indirect negative consequences." But while it is easy to hide behind precaution when making difficult decisions, "you affect people when you stop research" by denying them potential future benefits of nanotech research, for example, he said.

Given the uncertainties around human variability and adaptability, it is easy for ergonomics to fall into an illusory 'better safe than sorry' approach e.g. pursuing safety control at the expense of using people to make safety. This is likely to become more of a concern unless the anti-science anti-risk culture changes.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Initial Post

This blog is intended to complement the processforusability website by
a) giving explanations and examples of usability assurance, and how gaining some assurance of usability would help
b) looking at the human-centred approach in a wider context (perhaps this might be macro-ergonomics)
c) taking examples that are current or topical.