Commentary

This website section is our outlet for miscellaneous thoughts on human factors-related topics.

Products We Admire, 12th Edition

November 30, 2011

Oxo Pop Container

oxo3OXO has done it again. They previously reinvented the can opener to be friendlier to physically impaired hands and gave salad green dryers a new spin. Now they have cannily redesigned the kitchen canister. We like the Pop Container because its lid interlocks securely with the underlying container. When you press the lid’s large, central button, it pops-up to form a nice handle while also releasing the lid’s grip on the container. The containers stack nicely when sealed shut and look great if modern is your aesthetic.

TravelPro’s Crew 8

travelpro
Being frequent business travelers, we appreciate the functionality of TravelPro’s Crew 8 roll-aboard suitcase, offered at half the price of others of comparable form and function. The overhead compartment-compatible roll-aboard is super easy to pull-along by its wide, comfy handle that extends and retracts with ease. The zippers zip with ease. The storage compartments offer good flexibility. The suitcase expands to a surprisingly large volume. The ubiquitous product rolls silently and with impressive balance, even when you add a heavy, laptop-bearing satchel to its external hook. It’s one of those rare products that make a mundane task – hauling around a suitcase – a pleasure.

Heinz’s New Ketchup Package

heinz1
We like Heinz’s new ketchup dispenser. Break its seal at one end of the container to squeeze ketchup on a hot dog. Or, peel-off the integrated tray’s lid for dipping. The new package, which we suspect cost millions to develop, has triple the capacity of the outmoded squeeze packs that ran out quickly and were messy and frustrating to use.

Flipboard, Inc.’s Flipboard

flipboard
Flipboard is a free, killer app that should be installed on all iPads. It converts content harvested from multiple blogs into an artful, integrated, online magazine of sorts. Users can readily build a one-of-a-kind magazine with good-to-excellent “production values” with just a few screen taps and then enjoy automatic, daily updates.

2012 Ford Focus

focus1
We’re singing Ford’s praises again after praising the redesigned Mustang back in 2005. Of course, all of the car magazines have already published flattering reviews as well, so we’re not breaking ground here. We concur that the new Focus is a good-looking compact car, inside and out. It handles well, has good pickup and stopping ability, and is safe and ergonomic (i.e., comfortable). focus2 We appreciate how the car has elevated the driving experience while remaining accessible to many. Unfortunately, the MyFord Touch system’s usability has been panned in a manner similar to the first generation BMW iDrive system. But…the car seems worth the sacrifice, illustrating that overall excellence can sometimes compensate for a significant design shortcoming. Usability purists can order the car without the MyFord Touch system.

Filed under: Products We Admire — Michael

Vintage Interactions

January 22, 2010

I’ve recently became enamored with vintage office machines. I’ve caught a bit of eBay fever – 8 years late according to my colleagues – from bidding on and winning an old adding machine, a 302 Series Telephone (designed by Henry Dreyfuss), and a turn-of-the-century Royal typewriter. Like many others, I find vintage devices appealing because their operation is mostly self-apparent. For example, when you press a typewriter key, it moves a series of linkages that ultimately smacks a typebar against an inked ribbon. Voila…there’s a fresh letter on your paper. Add some carbon paper between the top and bottom sheet and you get two letters!! The process is comprehensible. Compare that to the mysterious operation of a laser printer that quietly does the printing and then deposits the printed product in a tray. The user’s role is reduced to pressing a button, which clearly increases efficiency but forsakes physical and intellectual involvement in the task at hand.

typewriter

My point? Just as many technologies are approaching extinction, so are many user interactions. Pulling an adding machine’s crank to perform addition, dialing a rotary telephone, and returning a typewriter’s carriage to start a new line are on the endangered list. People who still perform these actions either do not have access to modern technology and the requisite electrical power, or are keeping tradition alive in the same manner as people who grow and can their own vegetables. What else is on the endangered interactions list? Here’s just a few:

- Rolling a car window up and down
- Tuning-in a radio station
- Sharpening a pencil
- Loading film into a camera

In the near future, we will probably add:

- Turning a page
- Paying with cash
- Flushing the toilet
- Filling-in circles (or connecting a line with an arrowhead) on a paper ballot

Filed under: Uncategorized — Michael

Products We Admire, 11th Edition

August 26, 2009

Amazon Kindle II

Kindle II

No surprise that we admire the Kindle II wireless reading device. Whether you take one with a 6 inch or 9.7 inch diagonal screen, you’ll be getting the capacity to store thousands of books at a time and download them quickly – in about a minute or less. The devices’ thin depth and light weight are compelling reasons to take it with you when you travel (e.g., commute to work on a bus or train). We’re impressed that the units not only display book pages with admirable legibility, but also can read a book to you out loud if you wish. We expect than an increasing proportion of people will be reading their morning papers using this and future Kindles now that the technology has crossed over from a novelty to a viable information appliance.

Vicks Pacifier Thermometer

Vicks Pacifier

Sometimes you see a new product that seems so obvious you wonder why nobody thought of it before. That’s our impression of the Vicks Pacifier Thermometer. How smart is it to take an infant’s temperature by getting them to do what they normally want to do – suck on a pacifier? Very smart. The Vicks version, matching the functionality of others on the market, has a pleasing, non-threatening appearance and the usual functions, including last temperature recall. We’ve admired another thermometer developed by the same company (Kaz) in our last commentary.

Brita® Faucet Filtration System with Advanced Features

Brita Water Filter

We’ve read about the incredible amount of energy that goes into packaging and distributing bottle water, making water filtering an environmentally friendly alternative. We like the Brita’s simple and pleasing appearance, how it tells you when it needs a filter change, and the three stream options (spray, stream, or filtered water.) Make ours the chrome on black model.

Filed under: Products We Admire — Michael

Europe’s medical device manufacturers step-up their investment in human factors

February 5, 2009

A decade ago, Europe was arguably lagging the USA regarding the application of human factors in medical device design. While European medical device manufacturers paid close attention to industrial design and associated ergonomic concerns, they focused less attention on overall usability, particularly the interactive quality of embedded software applications. Today, their approach to user interface design is evolving rapidly.

European companies now tend to focus intensely on the usability of medical devices as it relates to patient safety. They are driven by an International Electrotechnical Commission standard (IEC 60601-1-6, soon to be replaced by IEC 62366) and EU directives to do so. Failure to do so can deny a company product approvals (e.g., a CE mark). Since the late 1990s, American companies have felt the same pressure to focus on use-safety as a result of changes to FDA’s Quality System Regulation and associated standards (e.g. AAMI HE74:2001).

Accordingly, our firm is routinely engaged to test the usability of prototype medical devices in multiple USA and European sites. For example, one recent client funded tests in Germany, Denmark, Italy, Sweden, and France, in addition to the USA and Canada. We’re sure that our colleagues in other human factors firms are experiencing similar demand to collect international feedback on evolving medical device designs that are intended for worldwide sale.

The long-term challenge for Europe is to develop local sources of human factors expertise, noting that there are just a few human factors education programs “across the pond.” Until then, European companies are going to be doing a lot of importing.

Filed under: Medical devices — Michael

Products We Admire, 10th Edition

Hulu Website

Hulu.com is extremely useful and easy to use. We like the website’s graphical simplicity and straightforward navigation. We also like the speed with which videos load-up and the way the site smoothly plays TV episodes and movies, not to mention the good picture quality. It’s almost like a free TiVo.

13 inch MacBook Laptop Computer

blog_maclaptop

The new MacBook is outstanding in multiple ways. Its milled aluminum case makes it feel solid and looks cool. It is relatively lightweight, though not as light as the MacAir, and compact, so it travels well. The magnetically attached power cord, which protects the computer from falls by easily detaching if someone trips over it, is an old but valued feature. And, it is the nearly an instant-on computer. It goes to sleep in a heartbeat and wakes up in just a few seconds. The screen is brilliant. Add us to the bandwagon along with the product’s many fans.

Steelcase Walkstation Desk

Steelcase Treadmill Desk

We admire Steelcase’s bold initiative to integrate exercise and office equipment into a single product – a good-looking one at that. It’s a good thing the “treadmill desk” is whisper quiet, but its hard to imagine the sight of a co-worker striding along while checking email not becoming a distraction to others. So, we imagine the machine working best in private offices with shades. Undoubtedly, the machine will help some sedentary people get into shape. It’s also likely to please the fitness-obsessed crowd, and promises to be a good solution for people going through physical rehabilitation. Lots of swiveling components add to the workstation’s utility, enabling people to walk up to 2 mph when they wish, and otherwise pull up to the desk in a conventional chair with the tabletop lowered to an ergonomically suitable level. Call it a great stride forward in office equipment design.

Filed under: Products We Admire — Michael

Products We Admire, 9th Edition

July 22, 2008

Logitech 2.4 GHz Cordless Presenter

Our folks are fans of Logitech’s new cordless presenter. The device’s body is covered in soft-feel plastic, accented by slick black and silver controls. The device has a built-in laser pointer, controls for switching to a blank screen and moving forward and backward in a PowerPoint presentation, a volume control, and a timer. All these functions might overwhelm a nervous presenter, but you don’t have to use them. Overall, the product’s shape is excellent, the controls are accessible, and its fun to play with the L-A-S-E-R. Amazon currently offers it for just under $60, making it substantially more expensive than other models. But, frequent presenters who like nice toys will find the extra cost worth it. See the Cordless Presenter for more details.

Flour Bakery + Café (Boston, MA)

Sometimes you see a company logo that puts a smile on your face. Flour Bakery + Café’s logo is one of them. We admire how simply and attractively the part text, part graphic logo communicates the company’s message. Joanne Chang, the company’s pastry chef and owner, received her degree in Applied Mathematics and Economics from Harvard College before turning to cooking. It seems she appreciates the economics of investment in good graphic design to match excellent baked goods. You can see the logo in action at flourbakery.com. Note: The banana bread tastes as good as the logo looks.

Ecco Shoes

We are extremely comfortable in our Ecco shoes as well as navigating the Ecco website. Sure, Ecco ought to be able to produce good shoes and an equally good website considering what they charge. But, some of our staff live in their casual Eccos, including the venerable Track II Low that clearly reflects a “form follows function” aesthetic and the more dainty-looking Bouillon Maryjane. We find that we can walk many miles/kilometers in our Eccos without the slightest foot fatigue. That’s a real human factors payback for a modest financial investment. Now, let’s turn to Ecco’s website, which has a somewhat sparse appearance – consistent with a Euro aesthetic – and is easy to navigate. We especially like the magnification feature that allows you to closely inspect the products. Take a closer look here.

Filed under: Products We Admire — Michael

Products We Admire, 8th Edition

February 14, 2008

Virtual Skylights and Windows

Virtual Skylights

Therapeutic Environmental Solutions markets a series of virtual skylights and windows that bring a touch of nature into the windowless rooms that are typical of many medical care settings (e.g., intensive care units and imaging centers). Looking upward at scenes from nature, as opposed to off-white ceiling tiles, has got to reduce patient stress levels, if only slightly.

Volvo Blind Spot Information System

Volvo Rear-view Mirror

We’re quite impressed with Volvo’s Blind Spot Information System that alerts drivers to objects in their two blind spots. So are several safety-focused organizations that have given the system awards. The system uses cameras mounted in the side view mirrors to detect objects in the blind spots and illuminates an amber lamp mounted on the pertinent mirror to notify the driver. Maybe the system is unnecessary for drivers who vigilantly use their mirrors. Then again, who hasn’t started to change lanes only to discover a car is in one’s blind spot – hopefully in time to avoid a collision. Go to Volvo’s site to see an animated demo.

Kaz’s Vicks Forehead Thermometer

Thermometer

Checking a child’s temperature by placing this thermometer on her forehead, rather than in her ear or other site, has considerable appeal for both child and adult. The device uses infrared technology to scan the temporal artery running across the forehead. The large LCD display’s backlight shifts from green to yellow to red to indicate if the numerical reading is normal, elevated, or indicates fever, respectively. Very intuitive! This product is one in a series of impressive, paradigm-changing thermometers from Vicks. Its innovative features and pleasing industrial design garnered it a 2007 Medical Design Excellence Award (see http://www.devicelink.com/mddi/archive/07/04/006.html).

Filed under: Products We Admire — Michael

Recommended Reading: Dr. Atul Gawande’s Complications and Better

April 11, 2007

Complications and Better

My commentaries usually focus on human factors issues and user interface design quality. However, this commentary focuses on Dr. Atul Gawande’s wonderful books about the life and work of a surgeon and the associated topics of physician training, workload, and performance. Simply put, Dr. Gawande’s books are must-reads for individuals involved in medical product design because they offer valuable insights into the physicians’ mindset.

Recently, I recommended Complications to a senior product manager working at a large medical device development company. Shortly thereafter, she told me that she had eagerly passed the recommendation to many others within her company as well as selected it for her book club’s next read. Take that as evidence that Dr. Gawande’s writing about the practice of medicine has viral qualities.

Dr. Gawande is a general surgeon practicing at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s/Falkner Hospitals. The doctor has already received numerous accolades, including the 2006 Genius Award from the American Foundation, for his books and contributions to New Yorker magazine.

Filed under: Design,Medical devices — Michael

Products We Admire, 7th Edition

February 5, 2007

Steelcase Leap Chair

You’d think a human factors firm like ours would be furnished with the most ergonomic office chairs. But, our frugal side got the best of us years back when we ordered an “economy model.” Big mistake, paid for by our sore backs. Now we’re systematically replacing the poor performing chairs with better ones, notably the Steelcase Leap Chair. This time we did our homework and noted that the Leap Chair gets fabulous reviews for its comfort and style. Our subsequent “seat of the pants” assessment confirmed its ergonomic advantages and we placed an order. We especially admire the Leap’s synchronized seat pad and back, fabric that breathes, adjustable seat depth, and well-positioned lumbar support. Yes, they’re expensive, but so are visits to the back doctor. Steelcase claims they boosted productivity by 17.8% in one study of office workers. We’re hoping for at least 17.9%.

da Vinci® Surgical System

Intuitive Surgical introduced the da Vinci Surgical System years ago. We admired it back then for its potential to revolutionized surgical procedures and, indeed, it received a 1999 Medical Design Excellence Award. Today, it is realizing its potential in many surgical settings, enabling surgeons to perform new kinds of minimally invasive surgeries with a reduced risk to the patient, such as “nerve sparing” prostatectomies. Reportedly, the system gives surgeons a better view of the nerves they need to avoid cutting and enables them to maneuver instruments with extreme precision while eliminating the need for a large incision.

JetBlue Self-Service Check-In Kiosk

As veteran air travelers, we’ve had a chance to use all kinds of self-service check-in kiosks. Some seem to make a big production out of getting your ticket, while others whisk you through the process. We favor JetBlue’s kiosk for its overall usability and personality. Specifically, we like the kiosk’s combination of simple, friendly graphics and conversational tone, which adds some pleasure to an otherwise mundane activity.

Filed under: Products We Admire — Michael

Products We Admire, 6th Edition

February 2, 2007

HP Color Laser Jet 2605dtn Printer

HP’s newest color laser jet printers strike us as a nice step forward in terms of usability, industrial design, performance, and pricing. The series of three printers, which the company markets as good, better, and best models, has a distinctive appearance that reminds us of bread machines, but is nonetheless elegant. They operate quietly and produce great results. The paper tray of the 2605dtn model – the one we ended up buying –is easy to refill and infrequent paper jams are easy to clear.

Nespresso C100 Espresso Machine

We’ve admired Nespresso’s espresso machine before. But, they’ve caught our attention once again with their affordable C100 machine. We like its extremely simple operation. To make coffee, you fill a water tank that snaps on to the machine’s back, lift the stainless steel handle on top, drop in a coffee pod, and press a button. There’s essentially no cleanup due to the automatic ejection of used coffee pods. So, there’s no need to handle new or used coffee grinds, which could get messy, particularly in an office environment. The coffee pods come in many flavors, taste great, and has good “crema,” reportedly because the machine has a high pressure (19 bar) pump. Impressively, the whole machine weighs less than 7 lbs. and is the size of a gallon milk jog.

Garage Storage System – Gladiator Cadet™ Series

In a world full of cheaply built and over-priced storage products, we are drawn to the Gladiator Cadet™ Series of storage cabinets and benches. The units’ drawers move smoothly. Their cabinet doors swing smoothly. Their sizeable casters enable them to roll across a floor smoothly. And, they look nice and functional without being over-styled. We especially like the tough-looking, diamond texturing on the front panels. They incorporate many conveniences, such as pegboard side panels, adjustable shelves, and locking doors.

Nabisco Oreo 100-Calorie Packs

OK. We’re not nominating Nabisco Oreo 100-Calorie packs for a nutritional award. But, we admire the intelligence of packaging junk food for consumption in relatively small quantities, which nutritionists say is a good step toward healthier eating.

Filed under: Products We Admire — Michael

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