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/
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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.

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

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.

Thinking human – observations of physical and digital experiences

I had a moment of inspiration this week for a new name for this blog: “Thinking Human”. It describes my design approach: solving human problems by understanding human needs. Through design observations in this blog and my work as UX designer and developer, I’ve learned that great physical and digital experiences are created when humans are at the centre. Often we get it the other way around and create technology that’s not based on a real human need.

My goal is to learn. Through this blog, I will capture my observations from a human perspective of good, enjoyable, well designed experiences as well as poor, annoying, badly designed experiences. By writing about my observations and deconstructing designs, I hope to learn the genetics of good and bad design.

The featured image is my first made in Adobe Illustrator

Capturing My Design Observations

Design Observr is an intersection of three of my interests:

  1. Observing – observation, details, visuals, detectives, sherlock holmes
  2. Design – experiences & ux, usability, accessibility, visual design, interaction design
  3. Writing –  stories, creative writing, descriptions

I’ve had an interest in design and user experience for a number of years which has manifested mostly into my projects at work. I’ve done a lot of reading about web design and UX on sites like smashingmagazine,  a list apart, lifehacker and following design blogs on twitter.

Learning design through reading is a good introduction as there are a ton of resources, too many in fact, to stay up with as I found out. The next step for me is getting my hands dirty.

This is blog is about learning design through capturing my observations and deconstructing designs into their elements.