Friday, 31 July 2009

HCI International 2009

So this is slightly old news now, but seeing as I've finally got over the jet lag and on top of my inbox, I'm just about in a position to tell you about the Human-Computer Interaction International conference I went to last week.

HCII is a series of conferences which has assimilated nine other conference series over the years. I started going to Don Harris'
Engineering Psychology & Cognitive Ergonomics conferences from
the first one in 1996, and then at the 4th conference these came under the HCII umbrella. Interestingly, this year saw the first appearance of a conference track on human-centred design (though they insisted on using the US English spelling, with an extra 'e' in 'centered').

I was privileged to chair a session on each of the EP&CE and HCD tracks, also presenting on our Foot-LITE project in the EP&CE session. Both were interesting sessions with a varied set of topics; the EP&CE session focusing on transport automation, with examples from rail, road (two wheels and four!) and air, while the HCD session covered applications from mobile phones to web design.

The rest of the conference was packed with interesting papers and posters - indeed, the biggest problem with this series is that with
so many tracks, it's hard to decide what you want to go to (let alone keeping on top of the timetable). And it was in a great location - the Town & Country resort in San Diego. The hotel is a little removed from the downtown centre, but next door to a couple of big shopping malls - which offered good eating and drinking options. San Diego is just lovely, a perfect climate and a really good feel to the town.

Curiously, I quite often bumped into the odd superhero around the hotel. I did ponder for a while what interest the Watchmen might have in HCI, but then I realised there was also a big comic conference in town at the same time...

Friday, 17 July 2009

Ergonomics in the news

As I'm sure many others do, I subscribe to Google's news alerts looking out for media stories on ergonomics and/or human factors. When I first signed up, there wasn't a lot of activity, and the stuff they picked up on was pretty obscure. More recently, though, there's been a lot more substantial pickings coming through. Whether this is due to Google getting even better at what they do, or more ergonomics stories in the news, I don't know, but either way it's a good sign in my book.

Then the other day my good mate Steve Shorrock sets up a couple of blogs to help the cause further – Ergonomics & Human Factors in the News, and Ergonomics & Human Factors: Research into Practice. Both of these are going to be great sources of info on popular applications of ergonomics for those both in and outside the field, and I highly recommend them to you. It’s kind of half what I had in mind for this blog, actually, but Steve’s doing a far better job of it than I would, so I’ll leave that to him and focus on other things.

I can only see these kinds of developments as good news for ergonomics – getting the stories more widely distributed and making them more accessible to the people that really matter – the end users!

Friday, 3 July 2009

Human factors is back in business!

I’ve been getting a bit more into this blogging lark, realising that it’s more about participation in the ‘blogosphere’ than just standing on a soapbox. Preaching to the converted for anyone reading this, I’m sure, but setting the context for this week’s post.

The fact that we’ve had a couple of major air accidents in recent weeks has resulted in the usual rash of media stories (and now bloggers) commenting on whether the skies are safe any more. What's good about these is they get people thinking about the human factors involved - for good or ill.

This commentary on FastCompany (with thanks to Ferg for flagging this one up) is trying to say the right things, but for me they’re just not getting their teeth into the human factors at the heart of the issue. And, according to the pilot who comments on the post, it’s ill-informed.

Anyone interested in aviation human factors please have a look at the post and see what you think. I for one couldn’t help but join in and have my tuppence worth.

On a more promising tack, this Reuters article picks up on the Air France and Yemeni airliner crashes, seemingly for no other reason that they were within weeks of each other. And both involved Airbuses, but that’s a different story.

Encouragingly, this one does report better on the human factors issues, alluding to mental models and human-machine cooperation. Whilst I wholeheartedly support the promotion of HF on the safety agenda, I do find it difficult to see the link between the facts and the story here, though. As far as I gather, the Air France crash is still a mystery (and looks set to remain one, which befuddles me in these modern times), and I’m not sure we know what happened in the Indian Ocean yet either.

But what really hit me about this particular article was the quote from the President of the Flight Safety Foundation, who says, “We’re back in the human factors business”. As I teach my students that aviation led the way in a lot of human factors, I wonder when they were ever out of the HF business?