Category Archives: Science!!

Thoughts On Proprioceptive Feedback

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The literature:
Spatial Updating Of Self-Position And Orientation During Real, Imagined, And Virtual Locomotion (1998)

For efficient navigational search humans require full physical movement but not a rich visual scene.

The research done by Klatzky, Loomis, et al. as well as that of Ruddle and Lessels both indicate that proprioceptive feedback is a crucial factor in our ability to accurately gauge distance, size, heading and rate of movement. While my own experience echoes their findings, the reading left me with a couple questions.

First, what are the differentiating factors that separate those of us with what appears to be a more developed innate sense of direction (or perhaps a more advanced and accurate sense of place) from those who have difficulty with even the most rudimentary way finding operations when removed from familiar environments? Are there biological factors at play, or are the differences primarily acquired through life experience? Can we train to be more receptive to proprioceptive feedback, learn to interpret it more accurately, or are we consigned to our genetically disposed navigational fates, as it were?

Second, what are the implications of this kind of research on purely digital mediums, in which physical feedback is minimal or nonexistent? Are there natural corollaries between physical locomotion or visual perception and our navigation of pages on the web or through various states of an application? Could connections between these modes of ‘navigation’ be yoked more efficiently, enhancing a user’s innate ability to find their way about within a complex application?

What do you think?

Design Constraints Are Awesome

While reading some material recently I was particularly struck by a correlation between the sentiment of “designing for monochrome first” (for color deficient users) and the design movement termed “Mobile First”.

In both cases, the designer aims to build their interface elements such that the largest % possible of users will have accessibility to the data, based on the real and perceived limitations of the environmental factors imposed. After baseline accessibility and usability you can worry about nuances and aesthetics.

Monochromatic vision strips the designer of color-based tools and techniques, forcing you to fallback to the use of shape, contour, contrast and pattern. The Mobile First design sensibility forces the designer to carefully prioritize what elements of the design are truly needed to accomplish the goal(s) of the product, framed within the limits imposed by a smaller display. You also have to consider the contextual differences in usage between a mobile device and a desktop computer, and within the vastly different feature sets of modern devices.

I often hear about project constraints in terms of drawbacks, of obstacles to building the perfect widget. It’s much more helpful to think of constraints as helpful wayfinding elements on the road to successful project definition. If you know what they are, you won’t waste time in rabbit holes and you’ll be able to focus your time and attention on crafting the best product possible – one that will meet the unique needs of your users, whether or not they can see colors and regardless of what they’re using to access your offerings.

Thoughts On Medical Decision Making

Original article by Jerome Groopman

We all fall victim to habitual behaviors, and more so when we are unable to focus sufficient attention on tasks at hand, believing (consciously or unconsciously) that we can accomplish some process or task without conscious thought, instead thinking about ‘more pressing’ matters.

What is more difficult to detect are those biases not based on habit, but instead on other factors. Groopman’s article on medical decision making explored this issue in the light of decisions made every day by physicians in practices and hospitals across the world.

Several types of errors were explored, including Representativeness error (thinking that is overly influenced by what is typically true), Availability error (the tendency to judge likelihood of an event by how easy relevant examples come to mind), confirmation bias error (cognitive cherry picking – confirming what you expect to find by selectively accepting or ignoring information) and affective error (making decisions based on what you wish to be true).

The stories he shared demonstrate how a very skilled and educated doctor can make incredibly dangerous mistakes, due in some cases to the fast-paced world of medicine but in other in reaction to common human urges such as the desire to be merciful and spare a patient embarrassment or further fatiguing tests.

At my workplace we are tasked with making medical industry communication more secure and much more efficient – resulting in better patient care and increased physician and clinician satisfaction. After reading this article and having learned a great deal about how complex the communication needs of a hospital or practice have become, I have to wonder how many mistakes are made due to the very real problems of workflow dissolution and workplace communication breakdowns. How many errors of the classes described by Groopman could be avoided or reduced in severity through more frequent and higher quality peer-to-peer interactions in the medical industry?

GapMinder Data Analysis

In my HCI cognitive science class we’ve been studying visualization and how a given interface can enhance our mental processing power, bringing more of our wits to bear on a challenge. Here’s a look at comparing a few layers of data as reported by two very different nations.

Denmark vs. USA – Charitable giving related to income & life expectancy

I chose to compare the nations of Denmark and the United States, examining their respective records of charitable giving and comparing that to each nations’ income per person and their life expectancy. The data available ran from 1960 to 2008, and so it’s worth noting that the period studied spanned several wars with worldwide impact, numerous financial recessions and a gradual but accelerating trend of climate change.

The United States
The United States in 1960 was quite a charitable one, donating 0.54% of the gross national income (GNI) while only reporting $18,175 in income per person. We had a change of heart it would seem, as the % of GNI given to charity fell steadily for 37 years before finally ending at 0.18% of GNI in 2008.

During this period, while our incomes rose by $24k and our life expectancy by 8 years we gave 0.54% less to charities.

Denmark
Denmark in 1960 was a hard place, donating only 0.09% of their GNI while reporting only $11,569 in income per person. They seem to have buckled down and gotten industrious, as the % of GNI given to charity rose for 21 years to 1.03%, with a high of 1.06% before finally ending at 0.82% of GNI in 2008.

During this period, their incomes rose by $20k and their life expectancy by 6 years. In the end Danes increased their charitable giving by a staggering 0.97% over the period.

Reflections
An interesting measure to add to this comparison would be an index of reported happiness & contentment – does charity or income have a greater effect on happiness?

I would also have enjoyed seeing an overlay of world events across political, economic and climate scopes, relating those factors into the changes in life expectancy, income and charitable giving.

The animation was quite helpful, and illustrated the rate of change between compared parameters over the lengthy collection of data ranging over 48 years, clearly calling out the rapid rise of Denmark’s charity while the USA gave away less and less each year.

It’s purely correlative, but it appears that given the much larger percentage they gave to charity (from their noticeably lower income) the Danish were not overly burdened and lived to nearly the same age. Many factors could have been at play, but I’m given to lean towards the old adage that money CAN bring happiness as long as you spend it on others.

Using Vision To Think (a nod to Stuart Card)

In an HCI class I’m taking currently, we’re studying the cognitive science behind the long human history of visual-spatial displays. We’re talking caveman drawings up to the latest in Minority Report-style virtual interactive displays – fun stuff!!

Here’s an article to soak up if you’re interested in this kind of stuff: The Cognitive Science of Visual-Spatial Displays: Implications for Design

And here’s some thoughts of my own about that article:

More than anything else, this week’s reading of Mary Hegarty’s paper on the science of visual displays made me realize why it’s much easier for visually-minded folks like myself to understand something best when we’re able to interact with a subject on a visual level.

“Representations that are informationally equivalent (contain the same information) are not necessarily computationally equivalent”…
“task performance can be dramatically different with different visual displays of the same information”…

These are dead on. Whenever I’ve encountered a complex problem, whether facing it alone or in a small group (or mentorship, etc.) I often kick off the process or discussion with something along the lines of “Are there other ways I/we can look at the issue?” This is helpful in many cases because in representing the object or process with an iconic, relational or complex display allows us to augment our thinking, to enhance our understanding and to bring additional inferences or insights to bear.

Displays allow us to externalize both the storage and the organization of a massive amount of data, freeing up our fragile and limited minds to process that data in different ways. It also lets us explore the relationships between groupings of related elements, i.e. chunking – freeing us to a degree from the limitations of short term memory by compressing these complex associations or concepts into a fewer number comprehensible objects.

I understand the world through my visualizations of it, both in reality and in my internalized efforts to understand the world around me, so my favorite blurb by far was the author’s reference to Stuart Card’s sentiment “Using vision to think”.