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I'm currently working on a DPhil in HCT at the University of Sussex. This section of the website is for an on-going 'learning diary', for me to write my thoughts and notes on various courses and my thesis.



Right, finally got around to starting to look into some of the links on Social Psychology. The wikipedia entry is the obvious starting point! And in there is a mention of something called persuasion, which definitely looks like something I want to look into further. Again, the Wikipdia entry on Persuasion is my starting point, and that lists a book by Robert Cialdini as one to look for: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Dr Robert Cialdini ( ISBN 0-688-12816-5 ). So that might be fruitful.

The other thing to do with that is to take that and look it up in Google scholar and see what has used it as a reference. That might be cool.

Found this over here on Marketing Green:

In his Focus Theory of Normative Conduct, Cialdini et al (1990) suggest that social norms influence acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. He identifies two types of social norms:

  • Descriptive norms: “what [other] people typically do”
  • Injunctive norms: “what [other] people typically approve or disapprove [of]”

“ Only by aligning descriptive norms…with injunctive norms,” Cialdini et al proposed, “ can one optimize the power of normative appeals.”

I think I may need to find that paper...   


Terrestrially crazy

Finally got to go and play that inaccessible game I found. It's brilliant! Such a good way to demonstrate the problems. Although you could argue that it goes a little over the top, and makes them too obvious. Still it's a good way to make the guidelines fun. Must have taken some effort to come up with all the different techniques.

My little flash project for cat skinning has taken quite a lot of thought. I've divided accessibility issues into 4 broad categories: cognitive, hearing, visual and movement. I'm going to build levels that cover the first three - I did think of one for movement, but I don't think I'm going to have enough time and it was (perhaps) stretching the metaphor a little too far! I'm also only really simulating the other categories at a very basic level, with the aim of illustrating my point rather than accurately mimicing the disability. 

The theme is cat skinning, because there's more than one way to. But I'm focussing on the getting the cat portion of the problem. (The mobility level was around the actual shaving!)

  1. For hearing problems, I'm going to have a level where you have to play a tutorial dvd on cat skinning. Only problem is your TV is broken, so you don't get any audio. The level ends when the subtitles get turned on.
  2. Cognitive issues. You get to the pet store, but all the animals are loose and moving everywhere. In fact, they run away from your mouse. Until you put food out for them, when they stay still and are easy to catch and cage. The idea was to illustrate how much easier things are when they stay put! The level ends when all the animals are caged.
  3. To illustrate the sight thing, I think the light bulb is going to blow in the pet shop. You still have to find the cat out of the caged animals. I haven't decided whether to make the mouse a torch (tunnel vision anyone?) or use tabs and noises yet. Level ends when you get the cat.

So yeah. A series of mini-puzzles to illustrate some of the problems. I'm going to have static pages of information on the relevent disability too, highlighting the situations that may make us all suffer this disability a little - borrowed from one of the HCCS topics we covered. I also want to cover some sample requirements for the BSA audience. I think I'll make the static pages (and the levels) accessible from a main menu, but also have the relevent static pages available as help pages within the puzzles.

Sounds pretty straightforward. But I'm still pretty new to Flash, so it's taking me a little longer than I'd hoped. I'm learning loads of AS3.0, and getting to draw bits and pieces and hopefully get to a stylish little app too.


Gaming Accessibility

I still haven't had time to revisit this properly, but even just following some of the links on the Seminar comments is pretty good. I've just found a blog for a working group into gaming accessibility, which has some great posts suggesting top three accessibility ideas by game-type. It's the IGDA - Gaming Accessibility Special Interest Group. I find the idea of breaking the games down into different types useful. It's also good that it mentions a lot of difficulties other than a loss of sight, which I think we get a little hooked up on. Things like only having one arm might make a lot of computer games really difficult to use, and even things like RSI or a broken arm could remove the use of the limb. Really good to think around the users a bit more.

There's a link to a Universally Inaccessible game too. Apparently meant to highlight the problems that may face users to games designers. That really strikes a chord with what I'm hoping to do in my MDA coursework, use Flash to create a game with a series of levels to highlight some of the problems that occur.  

More reading to do, but it's a start!  


Seminar 8 - Agents or manipulation?

This was set up as a fight between using software agents vs. direct manipulation, based on a paper from a debate between Ben Schneiderman (for direct manipulation) and Pattie Maes for agents. I didn't even like the paper. I thought Schneiderman came across as demeaning Pattie Maes rather than actually debating his corner, and didn't respond to many (any?) of the points she raised.

So, taking it away from them.

Software agents can be done really badly (like Microsoft's paperclip - the standard illustration of one). There's a paper from the BT laboratories in 1996 (apparently printed in the Knowledge Engineering Review, vol 11, no 3, written by Hyacinth S. Nwana) that I found over here that tries to tie together a lot of the research at that time into agents. One of the key bits for me was that they couldn't define a consistent definition of what an agent is. The idea is that the software does things in the background to remove the effort from you. So something that helps you search by learning what sites interest you and suggesting things in a similar vein.

At some level then maybe a page like iGoogle or netvibes or bloglines, where you collect a set of things for it to 'watch' on your behalf and immediately update could be considered to be a really simple agent - it does take the work away from following feeds, because you only have to look at them when there's something new. But a cleverer system could be to take the feeds you look at, then scan for other feeds that reference them. You can do this yourself by looking at the trackbacks on posts, or search on the content I guess.

Direct manipulation is just that. Everything that needs doing, you do yourself. So rather than let Clippy set up your letter, you decide where you want the address and do the formatting and so on.

I don't think these are necessarily opposing technologies. I think there's a time and a place for both, and actually they could work really well together. If I'm searching for something specific, it might be handy to have a list of links relating to previous stuff and the current search. But don't not do the current search (direct manipulation) in favour of only returning the suggested links. That's self-reinforcing. On the feeds thing, sure, highlight some extra stuff I might find interesting, but don't stop following my selected feeds just because I haven't been particularly interested for a day or so.

As for which technology is better for usability, that's pretty tough. Any system you need to train before it becomes properly useful. It's interesting to me that most blind users don't surf the web for fun, but with a specific purpose. Would they be more likely to surf for fun if the process was fun for them? So if an agent learnt some of their preferences and found relevant other pages quickly and easily for them, would that encourage them to explore further? On the other hand, that kind of learning and altering of what's available could make an interface much less predictable and therefore harder to use, especially if you rely on 'learning' the layout of the screen.

I need to do some more reading on this for the exam, but I'm struggling with my searches. I think that's a side-effect of the word agent now applying to too many things. Looks like Pattie Maes wrote an extremely cited piece in 1994 - "Agents that reduce work and information overload". On the ACM. Maybe I'll have a look at some of the papers that cite it, and read it myself.


Buttons and switches galore

After the seminar today (more on that later) our phidget group headed off to Maplins to try and find some suitable buttons for our finding device. Eric's buttons were a bit basic frankly.

It was really interesting trying to decide which buttons (sorry, push switches) to get considering all the needs of our target users. We wanted something that looked ok and provided feedback of its state for all the user groups. There were so many choices! Locking or not, rocker switches or plain push buttons, some light up... Then there was size. Big, little, micro, long toggle switches or low profile rockers... Do we build onto them, or leave them as is? Can we use the colour of the button to signify anything? Do we need different buttons for different functions?

In the end we went for lit up ones (so we can have them lit if they are on, not if they aren't) which locked (giving haptic feedback of the on/off state). We stuck with push switches rather than toggles for the build, and because the buttons only came in three colours we decided to stick with one colour for all four buttons (blue - we liked it). We did think about adding a fifth button for selecting all items (which we could have differentiated by changing the feel - using glitter on it maybe, or cutting the surface somehow) but I don't think we have enough outputs to light that and all the LEDs we want to use. We've gone for nice big buttons that we don't have to build onto, both for the simplicity of the build and how easy it is to find them without looking. I'm not sure we thought about this specifically, but it does make them feel really different to the LEDs on the device.

They look really swanky. Now i just have to work out how to wire them up...