Wednesday, February 21, 2007

New Human Factors Blog

Welcome to my human factors and user-centered design blog. I am a human factors consultant with 25 years of experience in human factors research and design, and I want to use this blog to share thoughts, lessons learned, tools, and best practices with anyone grappling with usability questions and challenges. Some of the topics I intend to cover include the following:

- Many product designers and researchers are looking for convenient, easy-to-use, flexible, and inexpensive rapid prototyping tools. If you have Microsoft Office, you already have the basic tools you need to set up your own portable prototyping environment and usability lab. Did you know that PowerPoint can serve as a very capable rapid prototyping platform, and that with a little Visual Basic for Applications code, you can capture user selections along with time tags and send them to Excel for automated recording of user performance data? I'll describe how to do this in a series of posts.

- I believe that most usability problems associated with electronic products are not due to poor user interface designs, but rather to poor functional logic. In other words, the problem is not typically how the product looks and feels, but rather how it works underneath the interface. If the functional logic is hard to learn and remember, the best UI in the world isn't going to make the product easy to use. I'll discuss some of the usability issues related to functional logic and how to address them.

- The design is only as good as the requirements, and the requirements are only as good as the analysis. I'll present a number of analysis methodologies I've developed and found useful on various projects. Furthermore, the requirements themselves may have an optimal structure in a human-centered process. Using a hierarchy of mission requirements, operational requirements, functional requirements, information requirements, and display/control requirements, along with the appropriate analysis methods for each stage, can help resolve many, if not most, design problems and issues before the design itself is even begun.

- Usability practitioners often debate the merits of expert design reviews vs. formal usability testing, and there's been some research on which is better, or at least more appropriate, for different problems and stages of design. There's a third option: design analysis tools. These can range from checklist-like forms to computer-based tools that apply heuristic reasoning to diagnose interface design problems that may lead to specific kinds of error. This is particularly useful because errors are often hard to produce and observe in the lab. Structured usability analysis tools are a particular interest of mine, and I intend to devote a lot of attention to them.

If any of these topics is of particular interest to you, please let me know and I'll delve into it/them first. I always welcome comments and questions. You can post comments here, or email me at If you'd like to learn more about me and our services, please visit my (very simple) web site at

Thanks for reading -

Vic Riley

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