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.