Design Review – XBOX Live Download “Pause”

I got an XBOX 360 this week. Basically, the incredible prices available online on Black Friday convinced me that I might as well try it. One of the things that MS is trying to push is downloadable content. So the package deal came with download codes for a few games. First off was Halo: Reach, download size of 6.57 GB. I am on Purdue Resnet’s internet, so I have a daily bandwidth cap of 6.5 GB per rolling 24 hour window. If I exceed that, I get cut off. If I exceed it multiple times, it is considered a violation of some sort which requires going before some committee. Now a normal person would see 6.57 > 6.5 and realize my predicament. (It turns out that 6.57 is actually less than 6.5, but I wasn’t sure of that at the time and I don’t want to get into an explanation of GB vs. GiB and when each one should be used.) Obviously, I had to partially download it, pause the download, and resume it after a period of time had passed.

That seems like reasonable functionality. The problem is that XBOX live does not have a pause function. The closest option seems to be “cancel”. But if I download half, cancel, and that turns out not to resume, I am out another day to complete the download. And online help seems mixed about whether cancel acts as a pause which stores a temporary file to be resumed later or if is throws away all progress.

Fortunately, I determined another course of action that did not risk losing my progress. I logged out of XBOX live. Of course, that meant logging out of the profile since I didn’t want to mess with the internet connection. Logging out of the profile meant that I could not access certain functionality on some games I already have. That includes the ability to save in Fable III, something I didn’t pick up on for a few hours.

So the options I had were potentially losing all of my download progress or missing out on some game functionality. Not a great choice. Given that 6.5 GB/day is relatively high and I don’t intend to make a frequent practice of downloading games, this is not too much of a hassle. Well, after this weekend. I have two more games that were bundles which come up to another 4 GB, and thus can’t be downloaded too quickly after finishing the Halo download. Even so, a simple pause feature on the download would be greatly appreciated. Or at least a way to enter multiple download codes and have the results pending instead of automatically downloading or requiring a reentry of the code when you are actually ready to download the game.

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RAA 5: Social Networking in the UK Home Office

Rooksby, John & Sommerville, Ian. The Management and Use of Social Network Sites in a Government Department. Computer Supported Cooperative Work. 1 December 2011. doi> 10.1007/s10606-011-9150-2

Purpose: To explore how social networking sites can be managed by large organizations using a UK government offics as an example. Contrary to similar studies, the authors do not focus on technology organizations, which typically have a more tolerant view of social networking sites.

Methods: The paper focuses on policies and their effectiveness in the UK Home Office, an organization of roughly half a million people in 47 offices. The authors had ten interviews with high ranking officials, numerous phone and face-to-face interviews with other members of the organization, visit physical sites, read documents, and explored the social networking activity of workers.

Main Findings: Workers are adapting to use social media to communicate in addition to the more traditional line of communication. This is easy when using Sharepoint and Civil Pages, an internal networking site, which are approved softwares in the organization. However, they do not have the functionality and/or control available that is in some of the other sites. Publicly run sites are typically restricted for general reasons not really ever explored, but that has limited effect. Users are free to use their personal equipment (phones and mobile computers) to access sites including Facebook at any time, so there is no real savings in “wasted time”.

The restrictions are of questionable effectiveness for other reasons. Of the people interviewed, a fair number did not really social network anyway. Many of the Facebook sites associated with the Home Office are actually most frequented by former employees. The restrictions made it harder for certain parts of the department to continue ad campaigns that used Facebook.

The overly strict policies are in place for a variety of reasons. The first is the difficulty of defining boundarys, both in the office space and within social networking sites. It is also tough for the office to gain control of what is available on the public sites. That is especially troubling when something becomes publicly visible via one of those sites which is sensitive or embarassing. Some sites have overlapping functionality, and it can be tough to communicate which one should be used or argue for the adoption of one over the other. And this is an area of ongoing change, so policy has to be updated frequently and deployed.

Analysis: The stated lack of analysis before banning public sites is troubling in some aspects. That is especially true when it turns out that the social networking sites were being used productively – most notably with the ad campaigns. While the study doesn’t make the argument that social networking should not be banned, it certainly points to the fact that the implications should be studied to a fair degree before such a ban is in place. It also implies that a total ban may be overkill (and perhaps futile).

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Expedia Proves Usability

Expedia has recently revealed some information that proves that simple usability changes make a big difference. As in $12 million a year difference. has a blog post explaining exactly what single field was costing them money. And they say that this was not the only field that was costing them. So the next time someone tells you that they tested the application and usability testing isn’t necessary, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Because sometimes it is the smallest things that most people use without problems that will cost you money.

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Design Review – Car Alarms

I am back to my review of bad designs. What’s in the sights this time? Car alarms. Let start be figuring out what car alarms are supposed to do. I’ll be honest – I don’t know. I have it figured down to two things. Either it is supposed to get your attention so you can come running in time to catch a thief or it is supposed to get anybody else’s attention so they come and scare off the thief for you. The alarms fail in both respects.

Let’s assume that it is supposed to get your attention. Then it works if you are within hearing range and you identify it as your alarm. That might work well when the car is parked in front of your house or in your garage. It doesn’t work well when you are far away or inside a building that insulates sound well while your car sits in the middle of hundreds of other cars. Let’s call this place a “mall” or “theatre” or “sports stadium” or “general public place”.

So maybe it should gain the attention of other people. This is flawed in that people don’t want to get involved with crimes, even as witnesses. That is what is behind the big campaign to tell women to yell “fire” when they are being raped instead of “rape” or “help”. Even if people were inclined to help by nature, the fact that alarms go off so often for invalid reasons has conditioned us not to believe them.

What sets off the alarms anyway? Just about anything. Kids playing in the street accidentally hit the car with a football. The alarm goes off. A marching band with a bass drum playing its part in the cadence goes through a parking lot. Three alarms go off. Someone slams the door of the car next to the car with the alarm. The alarm goes off. And then it continues to go off for minutes on end because the owner doesn’t hear it.

So alarms only work under synthetic circumstances, condition us not to believe them anyway, and only manage to be really annoying. Not only do they not achieve their goal, they are a nuisance. That is bad design.

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Design Review – Pressure Guard

I figured I would switch it up this time and discuss something that was designed well. The pressure guard. You are probably familiar with it, you just haven’t heard it called that. It is the little plastic thing in the pizza box that keeps the box from touching the pizza. Think about it. It is cheap, non-intrusive, easy to dispose of, and does its job. There was no over-engineering. And it met a need. At least before corrugated cardboard gained the ability to stay above the cheese on its own. It is still used (Pizza Hut uses it – at least for large pizzas), but not more than it is needed. Oh, and it made for a great little toy when I was younger. The kids in our family used to fight over who would get it. I don’t remember what we actually did with them though, unless it involved stacking them when there was more than one.

The pressure guard is a well designed item that is every bit as under-appreciated as it was meant to be.

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Blog Post Link – Magic tricks revealed

Pop Crunch recently posted a blog entry revealing how several popular illusions were done. What does this have to do with interface design? Actually, quite a bit. Interface has a lot to do with human perception and reaction. The best students of this may be the illusionist. They know how much an audience will not notice. Maybe by exploring this art, designers could figure out how to better design things that are meant to capture attention.

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RAA 4: Train Drivers’ Visual Cues

Luke, T., Brook-Carter, N., Parkes, A., Grimes, E., & Mills, A.
An investigation of train driver visual strategies. Cognition, Technology & Work. December 2005.

Purpose: To determine how train drivers use their eyes to determine the state of their surroundings and how they react to what they see, especially in relation to signals used by the railroad industry. This information could prove useful when designing future systems to warn drivers of hazards or help them recognize signals they need to see.

Methods: This study used head gear which could track the eye movement of the drivers. This allowed them to track how long drivers looked as well as how long they looked at items in the environment. After the route was completed, they researchers also interviewed the driver to determine why they made the decisions they did.

Main Findings: There are five different types of signal (post, gantry, cantilever, semaphore, and banner repeater). The type of signal made a big difference in how long the drivers looked at it. Signal types with more signals used at once were sought out earlier and rechecked more often. Drivers were also more active in seeking out and rechecking signals in urban environments than rural ones.

Analysis: The results really make sense. The drivers feel a need to take more time interpretting and rechecking the signals when the signals are complex or they are distracted by extra noise in the environment. That shouldn’t be a surprise. It is nice to have numbers though, as those could be used to evaluate against systems which are designed to help the drivers recognize and interpret signals.

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