“We all make mistakes when we use computer systems – forgetting to save the last document version, neglecting to add the promised email attachment, texting the wrong person, or buying the wrong train ticket. Mistakes can be just irritating or have serious consequences. Exploration of how users can get the best from their systems will connect interaction design to magic and illusion as well as to mathematics. A propensity for blaming ourselves when something goes wrong can make life harder for designers.”
Looking at ways of improving systems and tools rather than just blaming users for errors is a big part of CHI+MED’s research into preventing and reducing the errors that could be made when using drug infusion pumps and other interactive medical devices.
To encourage more openness about error and to acknowledge that mistakes aren’t a result of some personal failing but a normal aspect of our daily life (that delete key on your keyboard is there for a reason) Dom Furniss and colleagues at the UCL Interaction Centre created Errordiary. It’s an error-collecting hub (add yours via Twitter with the hashtag #Errordiary or create a post on the site itself) and the errors are also used in teaching professionals as well as people who are studying ergonomics and human factors.
Some of the examples given above in the quote have error-preventing features built into the software. Many programs include an Autosave function which means that even if the user doesn’t actively save the file a copy is retained and can be recovered in the event of the program stalling (in Word, for example, you can change the settings so that it will autosave more frequently). My email program (Thunderbird) recognises a set of keywords including attach, attachment, file etc and will pop up a little message if I’ve used any of them reminding me that I may need to attach a file.
These allowances for human error have been put there by the software designers and I assume that keyboard delete keys came into being in a similar way thanks to hardware designers. Of course users also develop their own ‘resilience strategies’, to help them avoid making an error, and there’s a section on Errordiary, called ‘rsdiary‘ (resilience strategies diary) to capture the clever things people think up. If you’ve ever left a post-it note reminder for yourself then you’ve used a resilience strategy.
Here’s a video of Jon Black from UCL Interaction Centre (and one of the CHI+MED researchers) talking about “Human error, resilient strategies and device design”.