Sunday, April 27, 2008

IDSA Western-District Wrap Up


This weekend marked the culmination of months of work for many of us working on the Western District IDSA conference. There was, as is often the case, a strong showing of students about to graduate and looking for work. From my experience of the job market, they may have a tough road. I met a particularly enthusiastic group of students who were attending all 4 conferences in search of work. One said he had 15 interviews at the NE conference, but was not so lucky here.

There were a wide range of speakers, many with traditional ID backgrounds: Max Burton touting the new Nike Sports Band - though I have to say I think the original Nike Plus with audio prompts exceeds the user friendliness of an interface you have to stop to look at while jogging. I do LOVE the simple interface they shared which downloads your run in a slow, sweeping curve instead of just a pop up of the data. It almost feels like you are doing your run again.

Howard Meehan and Carson Lev took the spots for old guard designers who had made and remade themselves into many fascinating iterations.

Wendy March of Intel did a wonderful job of turning design on its head, as always, posing new ways of looking at things and encouraging us to turn into, instead of away from "boring design" and pay attention to the little things, "like lunch" that will be with us for years to come.

My unexpected favorite was Winston Wang of TMobile's Creation Center. He talked about "orchestrating socialization using wireless technology." I love it. I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise by now, but I'm happy to see so many hi-tech companies saving creative space for researchers including design research and ethnography. He shared some of the fascinating work they are doing with gesture and call management.

Finally, Greg Raisman hit the proverbial ball out of the park with his great presentation sharing the issues behind bike parking and traffic calming. These seemingly static problems were made concise and interesting by Greg's enthusiastic presentation. PDOT is working hard to make sure bikes, cars, pedestrians, etc. can all safely share the road. The thoughtful attendees of this workshop came up with great solutions keeping material costs down, but cleverly working within the set parameters. I will take a moment to humbly comment that this design charette was put together by myself, Zara Logue and Steve Chaney. Portland's bike community also came out to share their input including bike aficionados Bill Stites, Jonathan Maus, Mark Lear and Sarah Figliozzi of PDOT and Teri Peterson and Ronnie of SCRAP.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Healthcare is Broken

As behavioral researchers, we are trained to talk and listen. To ask questions and really understand the end users. My current situation, thankfully temporary, has once again magnified for me how broken our healthcare system is. I have talked with and listened to elders, people with a disability, and people who are chronically ill. We listen, we sympathize, we might even empathize, but at the end of the interview or project we walk away, thankful for our health, our mobility, our cognitive ability and use these abilities to work to help others. The key is, normally, we can walk away, go back to our lives.

At the moment, my life is healthcare. Healing a broken ankle. Tragic? No. Inconvenient? Hell yes. In the dark? Hell yes.

I think first about the work being done in Ireland with the Digital Health group. They have done some investigation about ride sharing. Getting seniors to the doctor, on an errand, food shopping. There is a small system there to help with this. There are also some systems here. None too great. As a middle-class, non-elderly American, the services are almost non-existent. There is one rideshare in my town for people not on public assistance. You need to call 4 days ahead of your appointment and then you find out only 1-2 days ahead of time if you can have a ride. I have friends who can help, but am working at not wearing out my welcome. It's my right ankle and I can't drive. Public transit is a bit of a walk from here on my crutches. I'm unstable and can't stand for long periods waiting for a bus. The options are somewhat dismal. I can pay for a cab, but it's expensive and I'm now self-employed, waiting for 30-90 day payables from February and March. I also live in a purportedly green city. We should have a daily ride share board. "hey, I'm going this way, anyone need a lift?" Or leap even further ahead and have a device where you can log where you want to go and have it alert you when someone in your neighborhood is headed that way.

If I had interviewed someone about this I'd think, wow, we need to do something about this transportation issue. Let's spend 6 months researching, getting info and a few years implementing. That's realistically how these things happen. It is amazing what is still broken. I believe being in the circumstance is why people like Lance Armstrong start their own foundations. Only when you have the experience or sit next to it, do you really realize the work that needs to be done and the money that needs to be put behind it.

The other astounding finding is the lack of information, good information, shared by the doctors. I have a broken ankle. I never had a broken ankle (though I have spent time on crutches from sprained ankles). They hand you crutches and a brace and send you on your way. No conversations on how to make yourself comfortable, how to sit/sleep/work. How to get food for yourself when you can stand only on 1 leg and both hands are grasping your crutches. How do you carry things? What's the best way to bathe or shower? What should I expect over the coming weeks?

The hospital handed me paperwork encouraging me to "ask questions" and ask "have you washed your hands?" Really, that's my slightest concern. What I really want to know how my life is changing for the next 4-6 weeks and how I can manage. My doctor sees broken bones, every day, but this is my first experience. I don't think he realizes that. I've read research papers on what happens when you leave the doctor's office. How confusing and scary it can be. How many questions you forget to ask or don't even know to ask. Mine wasn't a heart attack or diabetes, a chronic or life changing event, yet the confusion and scariness is likely to be more profound with chronic illness. Health education is extremely behind the times and as designers and researchers it's our job to get this information to the patients, into the hands of the sick, the worried, the scared and empower them/us, make us feel safe and that somebody in healthcare actually might care.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The View from Down Here

Being that I am experiencing the world from the viewpoint of a temporarily disabled person, this gives me new insights to an old area of interest in design for disability.

Suggestions for the rented wheels, that is wheelchairs or electric scooters in malls and stores:
  • Add a location to clip on or rest crutches or a cane. There are no good ways to carry them while you are maneuvering about.
  • In addition to the mobile cart, rent out a grab stick. Though I know this from being a relatively short person, it's even more apparent when you are seated ALL the time, the world is designed for standing tall people! A grab stick at the grocery store while using the wheeled cart would be an excellent addition to the experience.
  • I'm putting this one in the public domain and hoping someone acts on it: collapsible crutches. They are tall when you need them, but telescope in for when you are riding in a car, wheelchair or just sitting at home and don't want the entire world tripping on them.
    • a quick web search shows that I am not the first to think of this - no surprise - but most models are hard to come by. One seemingly useful, albeit spendy option: http://www.gearability.com/2007/07/31/collapsible-travel-crutches/
  • Make wheelchairs fun! The kids all get to ride in these cute, colorful molded plastic cars, they are having fun and people look at them and smile. Wheelchairs are incredibly utilitarian, and people mostly avoid looking at you if you are in one, or look with pity. Make wheeled devices for adults more desirable.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Magic is Back

Just 12 hours later...
I plugged in my Magic Jack to the computer this morning. I plugged in an old GE trimline type phone and Voila! A dial tone, and the ability to dial anywhere in the country, basically for free (ok, a one time, nominal fee). Loving it!
The interface on the software is relatively intuitive, allows you to save contacts, though not multiple numbers for one name without creative naming (apparently the designers didn't look to cell phones for inspiration on their phone book).
Now I can lie, foot in the air, and talk away the day...spreading the gospel of usability near and far.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Not So Magic Jack

There is nothing like a frustrating user experience for good blog fodder.

Several years ago, I gave up having a land line, opting for a cell phone which took care of most of my needs. Now, running a business, I need much more phone time than any decent cell phone plan allows. I've successfully used Skype for the last few months, but always wanting to save money I decided to look into the next big thing. The Magic Jack. www.magicjack.com
It came highly rated by many hi-tech magazines and the infomercial looked good. Free local and long distance and voicemail. Too good to be true?
The claim is that in 5 minutes, with a special USB that is sent to you, you can plug in your phone and make all of your calls through your computer for $10/year. Great! My phone bill problem is solved. But my technical problems have just begun.
I asked for expedited delivery since the need is sooner than later. The device arrived in a few days. It's not too overpackaged and comes with a single color card wrap. It looks easy. But it's not.
Rather than walk through what has become a painful scenario (45 minutes and it still doesn't work) I'll share the highlights:
  • Asking for passwords that were never sent or given and then acquiring a password via email that doesn't work.
  • Continued difficulty bringing up Live Chat for tech assistance and no possibility of a phone conversation.
  • Confusing queries on set up and a box that you don't know to click that is supposed to offer "quick help"
  • Requiring upgrades to a brand new device. Most users won't know how to save and run an .exe file. (this assumes a fairly advanced user)
  • No good answers on how to fix the "connect to the internet" error message when I am clearly connected. Apparently they are upgrading and I have to wait 24 hours to try my new device again.

What did work was an extension USB dongle in the package since the USB is large and would cover needed plugs in my laptop, fairly simple packaging, though they could use less stryofoam.

So far, I am less than impressed and hope they are continuing to try and fix this user experience.