UX Can Be Fatal

John Hudson 
Week 1 Reading Reaction – UX can be fatal.
The chapter from Reisberg’s book was filled with a useful spread of history, theory and principles of cognitive psychology. I found it to be an interesting overview of the psychological foundation for HCI (covered more in-depth in the other readings). I appreciated the computer metaphor provided by Reisberg as he explained the concept of “working memory.” This has proven useful in my own professional career when considering a list of feature or benefits. List too many and it becomes all too overwhelming for the user!

I first heard of this cognitive limitation in my undergrad studies while working on my BS in Psychology, and again on Nielson Norman Group’s web site. Ever since then, I’ve kept this limitation in mind—urging my colleagues to write with succinct highlights when outlining benefits and features of a product. This can even become helpful when designing a web site’s information architecture.
The chapter from Wickens, Lee, Liu and Becker’s book An Introduction to Human Factors Engineering, highlighted important ergonomic and usability issues as they related to a workforce population. The very first story about the assembly worker’s back pain caused by an ergonomically-unfriendly workstation seems all too familiar in my line of work. Our organization strives to educate management of the various ways in which the workplace can help—or hurt—an employee’s health and subsequently their productivity.
This can have fatal consequences.
In Steven Casey’s book Set Phasers on Stun (and Other True Tales of Design, Technology and Human Error), he tells the story of the ill-fated Russian Soyuz 11 cosmonaut crew who perished during atmosphere re-entry due to a poorly-designed valve that would’ve been impossible to use under the necessary circumstances. See this Wikipedia entry if you’d like to read about it.
It’s stories like this that help us understand just how important our work really is.
I was entertained most by the Dix chapter as I found the stories presented to be relatable (and actually pretty funny!). The CHI conference brochure was difficult to follow (ironically), but it certainly demonstrated the incredible range of the HCI field.
John,
I like that you brought in relatable external examples, especially aviation based ones. Avionics are a lot like a really complex set of computer systems designed for constant human interaction. The history of aviation has been around for over two thousand years if you count things like kites, but recorded human flight has a much shorter history (barely over a century). Cognitive ppsychology and human computer interaction CAN and will have a very real impact, possibly fatal impact, on the world if researchers and designers don’t consider and evaluate projects, especially in aviation, thoroughly. 
Your writing reminds me of a documentary I recently watched about a United Flight 232. The flight successfully crashed in Sioux City, Iowa due to the ingenuity of three very skilled and very lucky pilots. Which also reminds me of the Denzel Washington movie, Flight, about another very miraculous successful crash-landings. The thing both of these movies have in common is that the pilots where extremely skilled, knew their equipment, and crash landed planes that shouldn’t have been possible to land without 100% mortality rate. When they spoke with field experts, mechanics, other pilots, and the FAA runs the lessoned learned or crash tests these landings should not have been possible and where hard to duplicate with high end simulators. This proves, to me, that humans have varying levels of untapped or under-explored capabilities to do amazing feats. When Dennis E. Fitch offered to help fly United Flight 232, the ground crew thought they where dead men because the situation they where in was considered not only unthinkable but was not documented or evaluated. Airplanes like the DC-10 have redundancy systems. In this case, the aircraft rapidly lost its hydraulic fluid and engine 2 of 3 (the one on the top of the plane). Leaving them with multiple issues maintaining level flight or even a safe decent. When they spoke with ground experts, they initially didn’t help much because the crew cheif assumed the pilots where wrong or that what was happening was nearly impossible. Additional testing of things that may be considered unthinkable thanks to redundancies may provide additional data and offer more options to pilots in the future. Moral of the story, I guess, could also be not to trust having three redundancies as efficient enough to exclude safety, quality, and usability testing.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the inadequate consideration given to human factors limitations in the inspection and quality control procedures used by United Airlines’ engine overhaul facility which resulted in the failure to detect a fatigue crack originating from a previously undetected metallurgical defect located in a critical area of the stage 1 fan disk that was manufactured by General Electric Aircraft Engines. The subsequent catastrophic disintegration of the disk resulted in the liberation of debris in a pattern of distribution and with energy levels that exceeded the level of protection provided by design features of the hydraulic systems that operate the DC-10’s flight controls. — (NTSB, 2011)
  • Additional details about the DC-10 crash of flight 232: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Airlines_Flight_232
  • NTSB. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 4, 2011. Retrieved 2011-03-15  http://web.archive.org/web/20110104033524/http://www.airdisaster.com/reports/ntsb/AAR90-06.pdf

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