Touch screens don’t work for everyone

I’ve been volunteering with AgeUK to help elderly people with digital devices.

One interesting experience I had recently was helping Edna (not her real name), an 88 year old woman with an android tablet. She wanted to use it to check answers to the weekly Crossword puzzles, use Skype for connecting with friends overseas and do a bit of online shopping.

As I walked her through different tasks on her tablet, I noticed she was having a lot of difficulty with pressing on buttons, links and swiping through screens. I asked her to try using different fingers and to press down with the flat of her finger and not her finger nail but none of these seemed to help. She started getting frustrated with it and saying it was her fault and that she “didn’t know how to use the thing.” I assured her she wasn’t doing anything wrong and would look into it further.

I was puzzled why the tablet wasn’t responding to her fingers. After the session, I did some research and found that a lot of elderly people were experiencing similar problems and it had to do with moisture.

First, a bit of background on touch screens. Almost all devices with touch screens these days, from phones to tablets, use “capacitive touch screens”. These work by sensing where our fingers touch the screen using the electrical charge our skin carries. Think of the static shocks you get when touching a door handle. And the electrical charge is greatest when our hands are warm and moist.

In older people, dry skin and cold hands are common:

As skin ages, the skin has a decreased ability to retain moisture, to control temperature and to sense the surrounding environment. Environmental factors, such as exposure to UV radiation, also have a detrimental effect on skin health over time. (bpac)

The puzzle was coming together. This explained why Edna’s tablet wasn’t responding to her fingers and why she was having such difficulty with it. Her fingers were dried out so the tablet wasn’t picking up an electrical current from her skin. It was like she wearing gloves and trying to use her phone.

It was a really interesting accessibility problem and something I didn’t even think about until I observed it. It’s yet more evidence why first hand research and observations are so important. Being there in person is absolutely necessary to uncover the underlying problems with how people are using devices and empathise with their needs.

The solution I advised was to buy a basic stylus and use that instead of her fingers. Another remedy would be to use a water based moisturiser but that doesn’t help if her hands are cold as well as dry.

And it’s not just elderly people who may experience problems with touch screens, there are many others who could be affected:

  • People with poor circulation can have cold hands
  • Healthcare workers who wash their hands a lot leading to dry hands
  • People with diabetes or blood conditions may have cold hands
  • Carpenters who have callused hands
  • Guitar players who have callused fingers
  • People with low levels of iron with anemia may have cold hands1
  • Raynaud’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis causes cold hands1
  • A thyroid imbalance can cause cold hands and dry skin2

 

References:

  • Featured image: Timothy Muza https://stocksnap.io/photo/1942FD49BF
  • 1 https://www.healthstatus.com/health_blog/heart-disease-2/medical-cold-hands-feet/
  • 2 http://bottomlinehealth.com/your-hormones-may-be-out-of-whack-and-you-dont-even-know-it-men-this-can-happen-to-you-too/
Advertisements

The story of a warning sign at Farringdon station

I noticed a big yellow sign warning at Farringdon Station, giving drivers an important message to do something. When there’s a message added after the fact, whether it’s hand written on a dashboard, a post-it note on a computer monitor or a big poster at a train station, it’s a usually sign there’s a design problem.
farringdon_station_warning_full
After some research on Wikipedia, the Pantograph is pretty important element of the train as it provides power. In this case, it provides power to the train outside of central London where there’s not a third rail powering the tracks.
pantograph (or “pan“) is an apparatus mounted on the roof of an electric traintram or electric bus[1] to collect power through contact with an overhead catenary wire.
So why is there a warning telling drivers to lower it? What happens if they forget to lower it? After a quick google search, I found an incident at Blackfriars in January 2014 which caused major delays after the holidays and guess which station they were coming from… yep, Farringdon!
‘Today at 10am a Sevenoaks-bound service broke down at Blackfriars railway station after one of the pantographs, used to collect power from overhead lines north of Farringdon, hit the ceiling.
Interesting that a simple warning sign at a station has a much bigger story.
With thoughts of designing experiences and users not reading anything, I question the effectiveness of a sign and trusting that the train driver will read and respond to it every time. It may provide a short term fix but ultimately this needs to be incorporated into the design of the trains and the platform to prevent the train from continuing when the pantograph needs to be lowered.

Hey Siri, OK Google, Is my train on time?

Emma and I were running late the other morning, the clock ticking nearer 7:41 and causing a bit of rush with the morning commute. We took separate cars since we were coming home at different times. As I drove towards the station, the question I really wanted to know was “is the train on time?”. If there were two people in the car, one person could look it up but that wasn’t the case.

With current voice activated features I would need to say something very descriptive like “is the 741 from Hackbridge station to City Thameslink on time?”*. This is not the language I speak, it’s computer-speak not human language. Thinking human would be answering a question I would ask to the person next to me in the car.
*Train times command not available yet but it would be something like this so the computer could interpret it more easily.

This is a perfect scenario for an Intelligent Personal Assistant and it already has access to the data points it needs to answer my question:

  • The current time
  • My location using GPS
  • Train times using the National Rail’s API

The data that is currently difficult for a Siri-like assistant to get is my habits like “which train do I normally take, from which station to my normal destination”. This is currently not available in intelligent personal assistants, to my knowledge. However, it could guess based on the frequency of a location I visit at a certain time of day or, less technically, it could be manually provided by me as a setting.

Intelligent personal assistants are becoming standard in mobile devices with the likes of Siri, Google Now, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon Echo all competing for our voices. A recently added a feature activates the assistant by saying a phrase like “Hey Siri” or “OK Google”.

With this, combined with the knowledge of my daily routine, I expect “Hey Siri, is my train on time?” will not be far away. Apple, let me know when this is ready.

The coffee mug experience AFTER you’re done

I received a Guinness coffee mug as a birthday present and I take to work in the morning and get it filled at Moh’s Coffee truck at Hackbridge train station. He makes a great coffee and even tailors it to my taste. I like using the mug because it doesn’t waste a paper cup and I don’t have to find a bin when I get off the train.
guiness_mug
The one problem I’ve encountered is that the coffee mug is designed in detail for coffee drinking (a must!) but not for after you’re done with the coffee. It could do a better job of handling the post-coffee drinking experience. Here’s my observations:
What I Enjoyed – the mug does well to optimise the drinking experience
  • Slider on the lid to prevent spillage
  • Insulated material to keep the coffee warm
  • Tiny air hole on the lid to help the coffee flow better
  • Lip on the lid to making drinking drip-free
  • Plastic insulation avoids the nasty metallic taste of metal lining
What annoyed me – post coffee drinking experience
  • The mug HAS to remain vertical – on its side, coffee leaks out the air hole and slots in the lid slider. On a train or tube journey, it’s almost inevitable that a mug in your bag, on your lap, or in the drink holder of your rucksack is going to go horizontal at some point. It could be on a busy train trying to balance the things in your possession or when you get to the office and put your bag down or arrive home and place it on the floor or counter. There are a lot of scenarios. My point is, coffee drips in your bag or on your clothes are annoying!
  • Cleaning – the lid is difficult to clean and requires scrubbing around the slider part of the lid where coffee congregates and hardens.
Observation: I don’t see many people using coffee mugs
With that being said, I’m a big fan of my coffee mug. When I look around, I don’t see a who lot of people who bring mugs to get coffee in the morning, at least not on the train. The vast majority are holding a cardboard cup from their favourite shop: starbucks, nero or costa to name a few popular choices. Why aren’t people using them more?
How do we get people to use their own mugs more?
A few ideas:
  • Incentivise – bigger discounts (most already have small) and advertise mug reuse more
  • Make people aware of the damage
  • Make them dead easy to clean – nobody likes a stinky coffee mug
  • Reminders – people forget to bring their mug into the shop

iPhone keyboards designed for diverse human needs

Whilst taking the train home the other day, I spotted someone making interesting gestures on their iPhone screen. I was intrigued. It looked like they were using a drawing app but in a text message. Upon closer inspection, I saw that they were writing Chinese characters in a blank space at the bottom of the screen which were then auto-recognised by the phone, presenting a number of characters to select. I found this fascinating.

Apple definitely took a “thinking human” approach for their keyboards and designed with a globally diverse human needs in mind. You can choose from keyboard layouts for Chinese and other languages in your settings. They could’ve easily just offered a single keyboard with Chinese characters mapped to it and left it at that but instead they thought (and most likely observed) how people message each other and created a handwriting focused one as well. Great design.

Apple included this early on iOS software, according to this article on MacRumors: “Apple Includes Chinese Handwriting Recognition in iPhone 2.0 Beta”.

Design observation post each Friday

I’ve been struggling to consistently post to Thinking Human, even though I have content and ideas in my head. I tell myself that I want to write more but that hasn’t translated into actually doing it. Distractions, excuses and procrastination follow and then weeks go by without me realising. I just looked back and I’ve
only written ONE post in October which I’m disappointed with.

This blog is about learning design through observing and deconstructing digital and physical experiences. I’m keen to focus on this so I’m setting myself a goal of one post per week, on a Friday.

Time to get busy and finish my iPhone post I start writing over a week ago.

Perfect experience of IKEA’s book technology

“Once in a while, something comes along that changes the way we live, a device so simple and intuitive, using it feels almost familiar,” says Jorgen Eghammer, the chief design guru of the latest IKEA book technology.

The experience of IKEA’s newest innovation is second to none. Its simple and intuitive interface is the best out on the street using cutting edge technology that feels refined to perfection over hundreds of years.

Features

  • Battery life is eternal
  • Navigation is based on tactile touch technology that you can actually feel
  • To start browsing, simply touch and drag
  • No lag, it’s crystal clear page loads instantaneously no matter how fast you scroll
  • Using just your thumb, speed browse through the content
  • If you find something you want to save for later, simply bookmark it. And even if you close the application you can easily find the bookmark again

“Experience the power of a bookbook™”