Thursday, December 6, 2012

Factory Fire in Bangladesh killed 112 workers: Who enjoys better working conditions?

Over the years, working conditions in manufacturing have tremendously
improved throughout western developed countries; although there is no
question that there is still a lot of improvement needed to be done. However
off-shoring the labor that is more intensive, physical, and oftentimes risky
to the countries that lack adequate occupational health and safety laws and
regulations is cheaper, and therefore more common even though it does not
implement preventive measure. The excessive danger of such manufacturing
jobs is put to the side, as companies take advantage of a population's
poverty which allow workers to accept any physical and hazardous condition
in order to feed themselves and their family.

The garment factory fire in Bangladesh, keep in mind that there are
approximately 4,000 factories in this country, is the most recent accident
related to this situation of occupational safety and health in countries
manufacturing the goods sold in western developed countries.

A witness shown on ABC news said "Our production manager ... pulled down the
collapsible gate on the third floor, forcing us to continue working."

The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights
( and press reported a variety of these
catastrophic working conditions in many countries and the effects on the
people surrounded by them. The incidents of human terror include a "Chinese
Guest Workers Flee Living Hell in Jordan" and Reminiscent of Slavery, Young
Women Flee, Running Away from the 93-Hour Work Week at the Rich Pine

On the work conditions at the iPhone and iPad plants in China: "Employees
work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in
crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they
can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple's products, and
the company's suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and
falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that,
within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors." (New
York Times)

Relating to the ".working children in Pakistan is probably somewhere between
2 and 19 million...", "child weavers suffer work-related injuries and
illnesses, such as injuries due to sharp instruments, respiratory tract
infections, and body aches" (United Sates Bureau of International Labor

The countless reports make me question the global concern about these
situations, especially among ergonomic and human factors communities. Should
we not pay more attention?

Abbas Moallem

Published in
The Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics International (AHFE) NEWS - December 2012- Number 35

Friday, October 19, 2012

Apple vs. Samsung verdict: Is this also a win for the Human Computer Interaction design community?

August 24th was a landmark victory for Apple vs. Samsung over patent-infringement. The jury found the majority of Samsung smartphones and tablets guilty of infringing on a number of Apple patents, and recommended that Apple be awarded $1.05 billion in damages. The patents Samsung infringed and violated include [1]
  • All phones and tablets on the screen bounce-back patent
  • Pinch and zoom patent with all but three devices
  • The front of the iPhone for all but one phone
  • The home screen for all phones
The victory of Apple reminds me of the Apple Computer, Inc. vs. Microsoft Corporation lawsuit in 1994 (lawsuit was filed in 1988, lasted four years and was affirmed for appeal in 1994) over a copyright infringement. At that time Apple was looking to prevent Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard from using visual graphical user interface (GUI) elements that were similar to those in Apple's Lisa and Macintosh operating systems. However, Apple lost that lawsuit. The court also pointed out that many of Apple's claims failed on an originality basis. The court ruled that, "Apple cannot get patent-like protection for the idea of a graphical user interface or the idea of a desktop metaphor [under copyright law]..."[2]
Since then GUI technology has changed, and patenting the user interface innovation is nothing more than patenting common sense. Indeed, discovering common sense or intuitive approach requires a lot of research and effort.
Thus two questions one might ask: 
  • Was the Apple vs. Microsoft ruling good for users? or
  • Is protecting innovation in GUI and visual design most beneficial for users?
Samsung, along with some analysts claim that the ruling will bring the price of the devices up for customers and customers will not benefit from innovations. 
Yet looking at the aftermath of Apple’s loss to Microsoft on the GUI lawsuit does not seem to confirm this prediction. In fact from 1994 to 2007 no significant innovations happened from a usability perspective and prices were not much affected.  Most cell phones were copying each other with the same basic interfaces and successive releases with minor changes forced the user to change their device every six months. The laptops continued to be the same old design and interface until the concept of the iPad was introduced.  
In user experience and human computer interaction, the discovery of a user friendly and intuitive design is not an easy task. Finding an “obvious” or “intuitive” way is easy to recognize but hard to find. It requires motivation, vision, perseverance and research to find the best solution for a product, something that requires money, time, and most importantly the belief that better user experiences can create product success in the marketplace.
It might be quite easy to copy the innovations of another and be successful, but one only achieves a real success when they invest and innovate user experiences that simplify and change the lives of millions people. Perhaps this new ruling will have encouraging effects for more innovations.
A. M.

[1] Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. et al., C 11-1846 & C 12-0630

[2] Apple Computer, Inc. v. Microsoft Corporation, 35 F.3d 1435 (9th Cir. 1994).

Published in ergonomics in design

Monday, April 9, 2012

“Consumer” versus “User” Behavior

Our behaviors as “consumers” are not necessarily the same as our behaviors as “users” of a product. Our behavior as a “consumer” when deciding whether to select and purchase a product is more driven by functionality rather than by the ease of use or usability. As a “consumer” we become more cost-oriented rather than comfort-oriented. Our decisions also tend to be more emotional instead of rational. For instance, we might make a decision merely based on the visual appeal, the packaging, or simply the brand name. As a "consumer", we sometimes become obsessed with the number of features in a product, even when we are aware of how unlikely it is that we will use all those features; how many of them will never be touched. Just take a look at your latest digital camera and consider how many of its features you have actually used, or even attempted to use. I remember a digital watch that came out a couple years ago which offered a feature where one was able to enter over 100 telephone numbers into it. Of course you would have to enter each number digit-by-digit with a pen since the enter button was so very small, and if by chance you were one of the few courageous people who did such a thing, you were still only an accident away from losing all of your data.

Our behavior changes to “user” immediately after we begin to interact with a product, a process starting from the moment we open the product packaging and ending on the day we replace it.

As a user, we interact with the product on a regular basis. We need to problem solve it when we have issues and work on maintaining it. These activities generally happen after the period that we can return the product, and so if the interaction and user experience is not satisfactory we are still obliged to live with our unhappiness until we can afford to replace it. This unhappiness will most certainly affect our decision to acquire the same brand or a similar product.

Consequently as “users” we are more comfort-oriented than functionality-based; we prefer the product that provides us with ease of use for the most important and frequently done tasks. We love error-free products as well as ones that are easy to maintain. We prefer being able to problem solve eventual issues by ourselves, rather than ever having a relationship with a customer support line—which we connect to long phone calls, spelling out our names multiple times, stating the case number serial again and again, completing pre and post call surveys, and so on until finally our support agent starts to investigate our problem and eventually helps us to solve it. Often times we even feel the agent is just as clueless as us, the only difference being their access to manual pages which they read robotically.

Users love a product that offers a better user experience, becoming more forgiving when the product does not always behave as expected. Users who like a product with good user experience will continue to buy the same brand as long as they are built with their type of user in mind.


Published in: AHFEI NEWS
April 2012 - Number 31

Friday, March 9, 2012

RSA® Conference 2012, San Francisco: Security, Security, Security

RSA® Conference 2012, San Francisco: Security, Security, Security

RSA® Conference 2012 was held from February 27th – March 2nd in San Francisco. RSA was a gathering of professionals and companies providing the latest technology in computer security.
With growing concerns in data protection, defense against cyber attacks, and even privacy, consumers and enterprises have grown more and more sensitive to security issues. Several recent and important data breaches have occurred. The Sony PlayStation Network failing to protect personal information and credit card numbers of up to 77 million users, the Epsilon, an email service provider that put the customers of at least 50 major companies at risk from targeted phishing attacks, and the vulnerability of iPhones and other smart phones in protecting users' data and other such contact information stored on the smart devices are among just a few examples that depict just why security is a primary concern in computer technology.
One of the main areas of interest in the RSA was the expansion of cloud computing. The growth of this has caused data like patient pacemakers, banking, consumer notes and ideas innovative security technology to be stored on the cloud.
On the exhibition floor one would notice the expansion of technology to protect the cloud access security with more traditional methods such as encryption, authentication technologies, and file transfers.
Although there was not one specific outstanding technology or product being offered in this year's conference, it was certainly made apparent that when it comes down to it, technology cannot provide a solution for the security issues brought on by another person gaining the authentication information.


Published in: HCI International NEWS
- March. 2012 - Number 52

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Was there anything new at the International Consumer Electronic in Las Vegas (CES 2012)?

The CES is the world's largest consumer technology tradeshow covering global consumer electronics, and it was held in Las Vegas from January 10 to 13, 2012. Obviously, it is difficult to offer a summary of all the products and technologies presented in only a few lines, yet, I will try to provide my general impression and the trends that I observed after many hours of reviewing and touring the show as a human factors and ergonomics professional.
Overall, 3D- LED-TVs were the stars of the show. Major companies such as Sony, Samsung, and LG, as well as a few others, occupied a large showroom floor with their big screen televisions.
The second area that caught one's attention would be the smart home appliances. Major manufacturers were showing intelligent kitchen appliances and washing machines, to name just a few, items with new touch screen panels and fancy interfaces.
Energy saving and management systems were also a highlighted area, where everything from cars to home energy management was being offered. Advances we are sure to see in the upcoming market.
Other noticeable facets included the innovated technology of home networking and sound systems, as well as the new 3D cameras.
Despite the promising advances in technology and smarter appliances that offer a variety of features to consumers, it was hard not to notice that no significant changes in the ergonomics and usability had been achieved in making the smart devices easier to use. As the intelligence of these devices increases, it seems that the usage of them becomes more complicated and the problem solving more difficult. For instance, I counted more than 40 different variables to select and control on one of the new washing machines from a major brand.
Smarter homes cannot be achieved if the systems, as a whole, are not easy to install, configure, and monitor. Hopefully, the necessary changes will be made, so the days of the future will arrive soon…


Published in: AHFEI NEWS- Feb. 2012 - Number 30