Category Archives: DCOM 131

Usability Journal Post #10

There have been many, many bad video game controllers. The N64 boomerang looking thing, the Atari Jaguar and 5200 controllers, and the Intellivision Disk controller (pictured above, I mean I don’t even know how the hell that was supposed to be a controller. It looks like a phone) just to name a few. There were many others in the 80’s and early 90’s as well. By the mid 90’s, most video game companies figured out how to make a good controller, and there has been very few bad controllers since then. However, there is an exception to this rule, and it’s the original Microsoft Xbox controller.

This thing is MASSIVE. Before you even begin to attempt to use and press the buttons, the physical constraint of barely being able to wrap your hands around the controller is evident. Good luck trying to press the select and start buttons. Not only this, but the button placement was just plain weird, and didn’t fit the mental model of what other controllers at the time were doing, such as the PlayStation 2 and GameCube controllers. The original Xbox used the “white” and “black” buttons that were placed above the the A, B, X, and Y buttons (the colored ones). These buttons were just strange and didn’t work well and thankfully were not continued on the Xbox 360. Not only that, but those 4 letter buttons just mentioned were placed in a weird angled diamond shape that was hard to get used to.

Another main issue was the convex right analog stick. Why make the left stick concave, which is the preferred style, and the other convex? The right stick made it hard to keep your thumb from sliding off. Lastly, why the hell is the Xbox logo in the middle so damn big? Perhaps, if you forgot that you were playing an Xbox, Microsoft wanted to make sure that you knew every single time you looked down at that massive controller. To see the controller in detail with a review and comparison to other Xbox controllers after it, watch this:

So, how did Microsoft fix this glaring issue with their first entry in the console market? They released a new controller not too long after the original that was much smaller, which can be seen in the above video. That controller wasn’t perfect, but the remaining issues, such as the white and black buttons, were fixed with one of the best gaming controllers ever, the Xbox 360’s controller. All of the above problems were fixed, and the 360’s controller was one of the reasons why that console did so well in that generation of consoles. Hopefully the original Xbox controller will be the last truly bad controller in the gaming world.

Usability Journal Post #9

USB connectors suck. Daily, I find myself attempting to insert a USB cable or drive into a slot incorrectly because I have it upside down. It’s not like these connectors are new, so why haven’t design changes happened yet? A reason for this is usually a lack of a signifier to indicate which side is up. Adding to this problem is the fact that most of the time, you cannot see the USB that you are trying to insert into well. This could be because the port is located on the side of a laptop, or on a desktop in such a way that it is hard to see the port without putting your face in front of it. The constraint of only being able to insert the connector into the port one way is the main issue. It could even lead to damaging the connector or port. So the solution is simple- make reversible USB  connectors and ports, and all of these issues are solved. I am surprised that it has not happened yet, considering that USB has been around for a while.

However, it is coming in the near future! USB connector Type-C is expected to be finalized in July of this year and will be added to new USB 3.1 specification. So, within a couple years, these usability problems will be fixed! Read about it here.

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Usability Journal Post #8

Manual, or standard, transmission cars are an example of less than ideal usability. They exist because there was a time when manually shifting gears in an automobile was the only choice. However, manual transmissions are still offered today because they are cheaper than an automatic transmission, they can give better gas mileage than an automatic, and for sporty or performance cars, they are just plain fun.

My car has a 5 speed manual transmission, and I enjoy driving it in pretty much all situations except for heavy traffic. In heavy stop and go traffic, I have to constantly shift into and out of 1st gear, and repeatedly use my clutch. I cannot simply just let off the brake and give it a little bit of gas like in an automatic. I would consider this a constraint that leads to unnecessary wear on the transmission parts.

Also, someone who is not familiar with manual transmissions cannot simply hop into my car and drive it with ease. In an ideal, usable world, anyone who has a license should be able to hop into an automobile and drive it. Thus, for those that only know how to drive an automatic transmission, manual transmissions do not fit their mental model.

To fix this issue, automotive manufacturers should begin to phase out manual transmissions and replace them with semi-automatic transmissions. Semi-automatic means that control of shifting gears is still the responsibility of the driver, but there is no clutch, or h-pattern shifter to worry about. Usually, there are paddles on the steering wheel or a sequential shifter on the console. This is the ideal setup for those who want ease of use but want to remain in control of the transmission. Many performance and exotic cars nowadays use this setup (pictured below).

Usability Journal Post #7

I’m not a left-handed writer, but why are there seemingly only right-handed desks here at LVC (and probably most other schools as well)? I know quite a few people that write left-handed and have to unfairly attempt to adapt the right-handed desks. These right-handed desks present a physical constraint to left-handed writers because there is no armrest on the left side to keep the writer’s arm comfortable. A left-handed writer must physically adjust their body to uncomfortable write on the desk. These desks, whether right-handed or left-handed, are an example of affordance in that they indicated what hand the desk is designed to be written on with. How do you fix this issue for the left-handed writers out there? Simple. Get more left-handed desks.

Usability Journal Post #6

The front facing camera of a smartphone such as an iPhone is an example of good usability. Instead of having to turn the screen away or using a mirror to take a selfie, the user can keep the screen facing him/her while taking that selfie. This gives the user feedback as to what the picture will look like, since the image being captured by the front facing camera is being displayed on the screen. This system affords the user the ability to take a picture of them self or with others, or use a video calling feature such as FaceTime. The only possible improvement to this system would be to include higher resolution front facing cameras in future smartphones. Current cameras can be a bit blurry, especially in low light, but this is more of a functionality problem than a usability problem.

Usability Journal Post #5

My slightly modified version of iOS 7.
My slightly modified version of iOS 7

This week for my topic I have chosen Apple’s iOS 7 as an example of great usability. The iPhone is really the only Apple product that I wish to own. I don’t own a tablet, and as far as desktops/laptops go, I am a Windows or Linux person. However, when it comes to my smartphone, why am I an Apple fan? For a simple reason- iOS is very fast and easy to use. Android devices that I have used I wouldn’t say are hard to use, but Apple has definitely nailed it better than Android when it comes to simplicity. The only thing I wish Apple would allow in iOS would be greater customization options. However, I am able to install a modified iOS that allows for non-Apple created files and tweaks to be installed (commonly called a jailbreak. Yes, that sounds illegal, but it’s 100% legal. Look it up. It only becomes illegal when you pirate apps and other data. But all this is for another discussion).

iOS 7's new what I call "quick menu"
iOS 7’s new, what I call, “quick menu”

My favorite thing about iOS 7 is the addition of the quick menu accessed by sliding up from the bottom of the phone. All of the phone’s important settings are there, along with handy tools such as the flashlight. Before iOS 7, this was non-existent on stock iOS, which was one of the main reasons I jailbroke my phone back on iOS 6- to have a menu that performs these actions. Having a menu that is quickly accessible for important settings/actions is extremely important in iOS’s usability to me. Some of the settings, such as turning vibration off WiFi/data, or increasing/decreasing brightness, weren’t exactly easy or quick to find. My mental model of a good smartphone is one where important phone settings are easily and quickly accessible. The iOS 7 quick menu is very good, because it very easily communicates feedback to the user for settings by simply being black or white. If the button for WiFi is white, WiFi is on. Siri is also a great example of feedback. When you hold the home button to activate her, you hear the bell sound giving feedback that she’s listening. When you are finished speaking, you then hear another, but different, sound to give the feedback that she finished listening and is processing what you said.

The "slide to unlock" feature. A great example of a signifier.
The “slide to unlock” feature. A great example of a signifier

iOS is also great because of its use of signifiers. The first example of this is the use of the slide to unlock phrase on the lock screen. Between that and the arrow next to it, it’s clearly signified that you have to swipe across the screen to unlock the phone. Another obvious signifier is sound. With iOS, you can set different sound alerts to represent many different events- getting an email, text, Twitter alert, text/call from a specific person, and the list goes on. Another example would be the numbers that show up on Apps on the home screen. These signify that the app has an update/event that you have not seen or addressed yet, and how many updates/events the app has for you. Unless you have them turned off, for example, I know that I have text message(s) by simply looking at my messages app on the home screen and seeing that it has a badge with a number on the top right corner.

The passcode screen. Part of an interlock with the "slide to unlock" page
The passcode screen. Part of an interlock with the “slide to unlock” page

For an example of an interlock, we can look at the combination of the lock screen and a passcode/word. To successfully unlock the phone, you must first slide to unlock, and then enter the passcode/word. This can only be performed in this order; try it in any other order, and you’re going to be attempting to unlock the phone for a long time.

Deleting an app. Example of a lock-in
Deleting an app. Example of a lock-in

iOS has many different lock-ins, but one example would be when deleting an app. When an app is pressed and held, this activates, what I call anyways, wiggle mode. In this mode, apps that can be deleted (anything downloaded from the App Store) have an X appear in the top left corner. Pressing this leads to a dialogue box asking if you’re sure that you want to delete the app, and gives a warning that it will also delete all data associated with the app.

I could go on and on about examples of usability in iOS 7, but put simply in my opinion, it’s the best mobile operating system out there, especially when enhanced to your own liking through modification. My main gripe with iOS 6 as I mentioned was no use of a quick menu, and now with iOS 7, I don’t have that complaint anymore! The only improvement I can offer is to give the user more customization options, but I am able to fulfill those needs through modification anyway. My “personal edition” of iOS 7 is perfect to me and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. It looks great, is very usable, and most importantly in today’s world, it’s fast.

Usability Journal Post #4

Today’s topic of usability is the cereal box. To me, opening and maintaining a cereal box has always been less than useable. When you are opening a normal sized cereal box, 99% of the time you don’t intend to eat the entire contents of the box in one sitting. This is the biggest issue with cereal boxes. They aren’t very good at affording the opportunity to keep the cereal as fresh as possible. For starters, I find myself ripping the cardboard tabs a lot, significantly hindering the usefulness of the tab. I accidentally did this to the box of Reese’s Puffs that I currently have.

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The other major problem with these cereal boxes is that the bags inside that actually have the cereal in them are hard to open. Again, I kind of messed up the bag attempting to open it.

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Not only is it easy to tear part of the bag, but there is no resealable function to these bags. This places a negative constraint on the cereal that you have to eat all of the cereal within a week or two, or the cereal will become stale. Sure, you could clip the bag shut, but that requires an extra device to do something that should be put into the bag itself.

To fix these usability issues, these cereal boxes should simply become a bag with the branding and information printed directly on the bag. These bags would also be resealable, so you don’t have to worry about your cereal becoming stale. This what my mental model of a good cereal container should be. There are cereal brands that already use resealable bags as the container for their cereal. But it surprises me that it’s the cheap knockoff brand that has better usability in their product instead of the top of line, name brands. My roommate has a bag of “Cinnamon Toasters,” clearly a Cinnamon Toast Crunch knockoff. However, this cheap knock off bag fixes the main usability issues with a cereal box. I hope that the name brands also switch to this design in the future.

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Usability Journal Post #3

For this post, I know a lot of other students that live in Keister, Hammond, or Funkhouser Hall will understand the stupidity that is the electrical situation in the dorm rooms. IMG_2120

Pictured above is the light that is on the desk side of a typical room in one of the three dorms. The other side of the room contains the window and beds, with the same lights over the beds. They all have the awful outlet placement on the side of the light, but that is for another post that has been done many times already, I’m sure. What I’m concerned with in this post, is the fact that the lone light switch in the room, controls the outlet itself above.

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The first thing you notice about our light switch, is that it is taped to the on position. This is because, as I mentioned, it controls not only the light nearest the switch, but the OUTLET as well. So, if you flip this switch to the off position, the light turns off, but so does the outlet. This, to me, doesn’t fit the mental model of a LIGHT switch. This switch not only controls the light, but the power to the outlet on the light. Also, if you’re living in one of these dorm rooms for the first time, there are no signifiers to tell you that the switch also controls the said outlet. In my case, I had our TV, fridge, microwave and a couple other electronics plugged into it. On my first day of living in a Funkhouser room, my roommate flipped the light switch to off, thinking it only controlled the light. However, not only the light, but everything that was plugged into the outlet turned off as well. So, to actually turn off just the light and not the outlet, you have to keep the light switch on at all times, and hit the little toggle switch just under the outlet. Thus, the taping of the light switch.

I’m now in my second year of living in a Funkhouser room, and in this room the problem exists as well, so I’m confident all the rooms have the same issue. Because of the outlet’s position in the room and lack of any other outlets close, my roommate and I have way too many things plugged into this lone outlet.

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Pictured above is everything we have plugged into the outlet, on the desk side of the room alone. A microwave, two mini fridges, and a water cooler. The toaster is sitting there unplugged, when we want to use that, we just plug it in at my desk to use it then put it back. Everything here is probably too much for the outlet, let alone what’s in this picture below.

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In this picture, you see that we have a 32″ TV and a Comcast cable box that are always plugged into the power strip that goes to the problem outlet. What you can’t see, is that also plugged in at all times, is my Playstation 4, a Playstation 3, and a stereo that I use for the audio in place of the TV’s speakers, because they’re awful. The Dreamcast (if any of you even know what that is!) is there but isn’t plugged in at all times.

The awful outlet placement in the room is to blame for all this being plugged into one outlet. But if we weren’t aware that the light switch in the room controlled it too, then everything I mentioned above would turn off with a flip of the switch. Very bad design and usability. I don’t know why whoever designed and built these rooms, decided that it was okay for the light switch to control the outlet as well.

Usability Journal Post #2

In my post last week about the bad Playstation 4 touch buttons, I mentioned when describing the PS4 itself the great controller. So, last week was my least favorite part of my PS4, and this week, it’s all about my favorite part. The Dualshock 4.

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This controller is very user friendly for many reasons. For me, the most important thing I found when first picking up the controller is that feels like it belongs in your hands. It’s shaped so that it fits your hands almost perfectly. It feels very natural to hold, and it doesn’t feel like you have to get adjusted to the controller to use it properly. The controller for the Playstation 3, the Dualshock 3, (see a trend there?) didn’t fit your hands not even close to as well as the DS4 does. Sure, it’s the same basic controller design, but Sony really wanted to change their 17 year old controller design for the new PS4. Seriously, for SEVENTEEN years, since the original Playstation in 1996, Sony used the same controller, except for changing and adding a few minor features along the way, such as being wireless. However, this is also an advantage for Sony, because by using the same basic design for all these years, people have a mental model of what a Playstation controller should be. If Sony was to change the layout of the sticks and buttons, such as change around the order/layout of the shape buttons (X, circle, square, and triangle), I’m pretty sure people would riot. I grew up with this layout and I know personally I don’t want anything less, or more, than the shape buttons, D-pad, two analog sticks, and 4 shoulder buttons.

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Another new design feature that I love is the inclusion of analog sticks with an indented top. This is much better than with the old design, because now it is harder for your thumbs to slip off the sticks, which was an occasional problem with the old dome-top design. Also along the same lines, the L2 and R2 triggers are of a concave shape that also allows for better gripping by your fingers, which you can see in the picture below.

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The last major usability feature of the Dualshock 4 is that the controller has an internal rechargeable battery. When the battery is running low, simply plug the controller into the PS4’s USB 3.0 port and it will charge, even when the console is turned off. Now, I know, this isn’t an exactly groundbreaking feature, as many electronic devices these days have an internal rechargeable battery. Even the Dualshock 3 did. But, I bring this up because the PS4’s main competitor, Microsoft’s Xbox One, uses a controller that still takes AA batteries as its only means of power. Microsoft, what year is it?  Why in 2013 are you designing a video game controller that doesn’t have an internal rechargeable battery? Most likely because they can make even more money on their $70 controller (I might add that the DS4 is $60) by selling rechargeable battery pack kits. But that aside, its very convenient to never have to worry about buying batteries.

The controller is also great for its other features, even though they’re not as usability centered. The touch pad, built in speaker, 3.5mm audio jack for microphones and headsets that don’t have to be proprietary to Sony (unlike Microsoft and the Xbox), the light bar on the back of the controller, and SIXAXIS motion controls. They all work extremely well and only add to, in my opinion, the greatest video game controller ever created. I’ve used a lot of different controllers in my life so far, and the Dualshock 4 for the Playstation 4 is easily my favorite. It’s a very usable electronic device that shouldn’t take long for even non-gamers to get acclimated to.

Usability Journal Post #1

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For my first usability post, I have chosen my new, shiny, modern looking, and incredibly powerful Playstation 4. This was my main Christmas present, and I’ve loved it so far. It’s had a couple hiccups so far, with booting into safe mode or games crashing on me for no apparent reason, but that’s expected from the first model of anything. System software updates will iron out the kinks over time. But for the most part, I love the PS4. The controller is fantastic, the games look and play amazingly well, and the user interface is great. Very sleek and user friendly. However, with all that said, there are two things that I hate about the PS4 and these things are not very useable at all.

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Pictured above are the two capacitive touch buttons on the front of the PS4. The one on the right is the power button, and the other is the eject disc button. However, unless you look at the quick start guide when opening the PS4 and first attempting to use it, (I mean, who really does? The excitement of opening a shiny new gaming console cannot wait for reading a quick start guide.) you would never know that the buttons actually exist. Like I said, they are capacitive touch “buttons” but they aren’t actually buttons. You, as the user, have no feedback that those buttons actually exist and do something until you press them accidentally and hear a beep, signifying that you either pressed the power or eject button. When it beeps, the action is already in motion before you realized what you did. So, when I was setting up my PS4, I plugged it in before I sat it down on the floor where it would sit permanently. Therefore, as I picked it up to plug in more cables, I accidentally and unknowingly turned on the console before I had any other cables plugged in, or my TV on for that matter. So I had to rush to plug everything in and hope that I either didn’t mess anything up by doing that or that I was missing necessary first time start up info. So that experience wasn’t very user friendly to someone who couldn’t sit and read the quick start guide first, which I suspect that a lot of people don’t.

Not only that, but the labeling of which button is which is AWFUL. As you can see above, the logos or pictures describing either eject or power are INCREDIBLY small. You literally have to have your face up against the console to see those. To take that picture above, my phone was nearly touching the console and the logos came out blurry because I was that close and they are that small. So, in my first couple weeks of using the console, I would sometimes hit the power button, wanting to hit the eject button, which did not make me happy. It takes the PS4 about 15-45 seconds to shut down. (I think depending on how hot it got and how long the fans need to stay on) Then, I would have to wait for it boot up again to attempt to eject the disc again and play another game. One time I even hit the power button AGAIN by mistake. Not very user friendly. Once you have gained experience with the touch buttons, they’re okay, and just okay, but I would have much preferred something that was much more user friendly for the two critical buttons. It is possible to both eject discs and power the system down from the user interface, so I find myself doing that much much more than actually using those awful buttons. Next time Sony, please design your buttons in such a way that I know they exist by just looking at the console.