Cool stuff and UX resources

< Back to newsletters

Introduction

There’s one thing I’ve noticed in the 15+ years I’ve been practicing user-centered design and leading User Experience (UX) teams: one of the best ways to judge the experience of a User Experience practitioner is to assess the number and variety of the design solutions, or “tools,” they have available in their personal UX “tool belt.” Usability problems come in many shapes and sizes, and the solutions need to be equally varied – seasoned UX professionals don’t often fall into the trap of thinking just because they’ve mastered a standard set of design “hammers,” that every usability problem they see is a “nail.”

This being said, most of us User Interface (UI) designers have spent our whole careers using visual tools to solve usability problems. Some of us have branched out to audio tools too, but the other human senses are rarely considered part of our practice. However, recent research involving haptic, or touch, -based interfaces have given the UX community new insights into how tactile “tools” can be used to solve a number of emerging usability issues in situations where visual and audio interfaces may fall short. Now is the time for well-rounded UI designers to consider adding haptic “tools” to their UX “tool belts.”

Haptic interfaces are nothing new. In fact, one of the first haptic interfaces was introduced in 1829 by Louis Braille. Braille devised an alphabet of characters consisting of physically raised dots that the blind, who lack access to a visual UI, could use to read. Video games have used vibrating controls to simulate explosions and crashes for decades and, more recently, most smartphones and tablets come with tiny motors that allow applications to “vibrate” the device when a visual or auditory cue is not appropriate. These uses of haptic feedback have not been optimal – they have either required extensive training, as is the case with Braille, or were used as a simply binary (either “on” or “off” state) cues, requiring the user to reference another interface, usually visual, to get the meaning of the vibration.

In the past few years, however, cutting edge UI designers have begun to see a different, more expansive role for haptic feedback. Recent research seems to show that using haptic feedback may not always require extensive training or complementary visual and audio feedback. In a 2013 study at the University of Tampere, Finland, researchers found that haptic feedback can be used in more than a binary fashion, using a variety of vibration patterns, called “vibrotactile icons,” to convey richer information to the user and, in some cases, completely substitute for visual and auditory feedback.

Participant Chest Wrist Vibration

In this research 24 participants were split up, with half receiving training on the meaning of three different vibration patterns; one for “speeding up,” one for “stay at their pace,” and one for “slowing down.” The other half were not trained at all. All the participants were fitted with vibration devices on both their chest and wrists. Then both the groups of participants were asked to do exercises and use the haptic stimuli to guide their pace.

Wrist Vibration

The trained participants interpreted the haptic stimuli correctly 88-100% of the time, whereas the untrained participants were correct 71-83%, and the researchers concluded: “As the unprimed participants performed similarly to the primed participants, the results suggest that vibrotactile stimulation can be intuitively understood.” In other words, it’s possible “vibrotactile icons” could convey more than just an “on” or “off” state and that haptic feedback can be understood by most users “out of the box” – without training.

Chest Vibration

Implications

UI designers must now consider haptic “icons” when faced with design challenges on UIs for devices that either have or could provide vibrotactile feedback. This additional design tool is already showing up in cutting-edge product and application designs. One excellent example comes from automaker General Motors, who has created a haptic interface for their latest version of their premium Cadillac line. Dubbed the “Safety Seat Alert,” the driver’s seat generates vibrating pulse patterns on the left and/or right side of the lower bolster to alert the driver of potential dangers, such as drifting from a traffic lane or toward nearby objects while parking. Threats from the front and rear trigger pulses on both sides of the seat. “It’s akin to someone tapping on your shoulder in a crowd to get your attention,” said General Motors Active Safety Technical Fellow Raymond Kiefer. “Using the tactile sense to communicate crash threat direction provides an effective and intuitive way to cut through the clutter of visual and auditory sensory information that drivers routinely experience.”

When should designers consider using haptic icons? Here are few user challenges that may indicate their use:

  • Environmental – noisy environments where the user is distracted from any visual alarm or can’t hear an audio alert (trading floor)
  • Multitasking – situations where the user may already be at the limits of their visual and/or audio attention capacity (auto seat)
  • Privacy – users sometimes would prefer if certain kinds of information were not shared with everyone else around them - haptic icons can be private (health monitoring)
  • Realism – haptic feedback can be used to mimic the real world (games and simulators)

What design considerations go with haptic icons? Here are some best practices to consider:

  • Longer is better – In the University of Tampere study, the participants were more accurate when given a longer lasting stimulus
  • Find the right stimulus point – participants’ reaction time was quicker with wrist stimuli than with chest stimuli
  • Match stimulus intensity to the usage scenarios – some environments or use contexts may require more or less vibration intensity than others – for example, a user running on a treadmill may require more intensity than a user sitting in an office
  • The tactile experience matters too – some tactile stimulus can be perceived in a negative way – for instance, females reported the chest stimulation to be “unpleasant” – and there may be significant differences in the ways that different users perceive tactile icons due to their physical or contextual attributes.

Experimenting with tactile icons is fairly easy.

For Android smartphone users, there is a “Haptic Effect Preview” app available for free from a company called Immersion, which also sells a developer’s library of code to enable haptic icons within Android apps.

For iPhone users, the latest iOS allows you to customize the haptic icon associated with each of the entries in your contact list – try setting separate vibration patterns for your boss and your spouse or significant other and see if you can use the haptic icon you created to select which call to pick up during your next business meeting!

Haptic Effect Preview App for Android

Haptic Effect Peview App Android

Message from the CEO, Dr. Eric Schaffer — The Pragmatic Ergonomist

Leave a comment here

Subscribe

Sign up to get our Newsletter delivered straight to your inbox

Follow us

Privacy policy

Reviewed: 18 Mar 2014

This Privacy Policy governs the manner in which Human Factors International, Inc., an Iowa corporation (“HFI”) collects, uses, maintains and discloses information collected from users (each, a “User”) of its humanfactors.com website and any derivative or affiliated websites on which this Privacy Policy is posted (collectively, the “Website”). HFI reserves the right, at its discretion, to change, modify, add or remove portions of this Privacy Policy at any time by posting such changes to this page. You understand that you have the affirmative obligation to check this Privacy Policy periodically for changes, and you hereby agree to periodically review this Privacy Policy for such changes. The continued use of the Website following the posting of changes to this Privacy Policy constitutes an acceptance of those changes.

Cookies

HFI may use “cookies” or “web beacons” to track how Users use the Website. A cookie is a piece of software that a web server can store on Users’ PCs and use to identify Users should they visit the Website again. Users may adjust their web browser software if they do not wish to accept cookies. To withdraw your consent after accepting a cookie, delete the cookie from your computer.

Privacy

HFI believes that every User should know how it utilizes the information collected from Users. The Website is not directed at children under 13 years of age, and HFI does not knowingly collect personally identifiable information from children under 13 years of age online. Please note that the Website may contain links to other websites. These linked sites may not be operated or controlled by HFI. HFI is not responsible for the privacy practices of these or any other websites, and you access these websites entirely at your own risk. HFI recommends that you review the privacy practices of any other websites that you choose to visit.

HFI is based, and this website is hosted, in the United States of America. If User is from the European Union or other regions of the world with laws governing data collection and use that may differ from U.S. law and User is registering an account on the Website, visiting the Website, purchasing products or services from HFI or the Website, or otherwise using the Website, please note that any personally identifiable information that User provides to HFI will be transferred to the United States. Any such personally identifiable information provided will be processed and stored in the United States by HFI or a service provider acting on its behalf. By providing your personally identifiable information, User hereby specifically and expressly consents to such transfer and processing and the uses and disclosures set forth herein.

In the course of its business, HFI may perform expert reviews, usability testing, and other consulting work where personal privacy is a concern. HFI believes in the importance of protecting personal information, and may use measures to provide this protection, including, but not limited to, using consent forms for participants or “dummy” test data.

The Information HFI Collects

Users browsing the Website without registering an account or affirmatively providing personally identifiable information to HFI do so anonymously. Otherwise, HFI may collect personally identifiable information from Users in a variety of ways. Personally identifiable information may include, without limitation, (i)contact data (such as a User’s name, mailing and e-mail addresses, and phone number); (ii)demographic data (such as a User’s zip code, age and income); (iii) financial information collected to process purchases made from HFI via the Website or otherwise (such as credit card, debit card or other payment information); (iv) other information requested during the account registration process; and (v) other information requested by our service vendors in order to provide their services. If a User communicates with HFI by e-mail or otherwise, posts messages to any forums, completes online forms, surveys or entries or otherwise interacts with or uses the features on the Website, any information provided in such communications may be collected by HFI. HFI may also collect information about how Users use the Website, for example, by tracking the number of unique views received by the pages of the Website, or the domains and IP addresses from which Users originate. While not all of the information that HFI collects from Users is personally identifiable, it may be associated with personally identifiable information that Users provide HFI through the Website or otherwise. HFI may provide ways that the User can opt out of receiving certain information from HFI. If the User opts out of certain services, User information may still be collected for those services to which the User elects to subscribe. For those elected services, this Privacy Policy will apply.

How HFI Uses Information

HFI may use personally identifiable information collected through the Website for the specific purposes for which the information was collected, to process purchases and sales of products or services offered via the Website if any, to contact Users regarding products and services offered by HFI, its parent, subsidiary and other related companies in order to otherwise to enhance Users’ experience with HFI. HFI may also use information collected through the Website for research regarding the effectiveness of the Website and the business planning, marketing, advertising and sales efforts of HFI. HFI does not sell any User information under any circumstances.

Disclosure of Information

HFI may disclose personally identifiable information collected from Users to its parent, subsidiary and other related companies to use the information for the purposes outlined above, as necessary to provide the services offered by HFI and to provide the Website itself, and for the specific purposes for which the information was collected. HFI may disclose personally identifiable information at the request of law enforcement or governmental agencies or in response to subpoenas, court orders or other legal process, to establish, protect or exercise HFI’s legal or other rights or to defend against a legal claim or as otherwise required or allowed by law. HFI may disclose personally identifiable information in order to protect the rights, property or safety of a User or any other person. HFI may disclose personally identifiable information to investigate or prevent a violation by User of any contractual or other relationship with HFI or the perpetration of any illegal or harmful activity. HFI may also disclose aggregate, anonymous data based on information collected from Users to investors and potential partners. Finally, HFI may disclose or transfer personally identifiable information collected from Users in connection with or in contemplation of a sale of its assets or business or a merger, consolidation or other reorganization of its business.

Personal Information as Provided by User

If a User includes such User’s personally identifiable information as part of the User posting to the Website, such information may be made available to any parties using the Website. HFI does not edit or otherwise remove such information from User information before it is posted on the Website. If a User does not wish to have such User’s personally identifiable information made available in this manner, such User must remove any such information before posting. HFI is not liable for any damages caused or incurred due to personally identifiable information made available in the foregoing manners. For example, a User posts on an HFI-administered forum would be considered Personal Information as provided by User and subject to the terms of this section.

Security of Information

Information about Users that is maintained on HFI’s systems or those of its service providers is protected using industry standard security measures. However, no security measures are perfect or impenetrable, and HFI cannot guarantee that the information submitted to, maintained on or transmitted from its systems will be completely secure. HFI is not responsible for the circumvention of any privacy settings or security measures relating to the Website by any Users or third parties.

Correcting, Updating, Accessing or Removing Personal Information

If a User’s personally identifiable information changes, or if a User no longer desires to receive non-account specific information from HFI, HFI will endeavor to provide a way to correct, update and/or remove that User’s previously-provided personal data. This can be done by emailing a request to HFI at hfi@humanfactors.com. Additionally, you may request access to the personally identifiable information as collected by HFI by sending a request to HFI as set forth above. Please note that in certain circumstances, HFI may not be able to completely remove a User’s information from its systems. For example, HFI may retain a User’s personal information for legitimate business purposes, if it may be necessary to prevent fraud or future abuse, for account recovery purposes, if required by law or as retained in HFI’s data backup systems or cached or archived pages. All retained personally identifiable information will continue to be subject to the terms of the Privacy Policy to which the User has previously agreed.

Contacting HFI

If you have any questions or comments about this Privacy Policy, you may contact HFI via any of the following methods:
Human Factors International, Inc.
PO Box 2020
1680 highway 1, STE 3600
Fairfield IA 52556
hfi@humanfactors.com
(800) 242-4480

Terms and Conditions for Public Training Courses

Reviewed: 18 Mar 2014

Cancellation of Course by HFI

HFI reserves the right to cancel any course up to 14 (fourteen) days prior to the first day of the course. Registrants will be promptly notified and will receive a full refund or be transferred to the equivalent class of their choice within a 12-month period. HFI is not responsible for travel expenses or any costs that may be incurred as a result of cancellations.

Cancellation of Course by Participants (All regions except India)

$100 processing fee if cancelling within two weeks of course start date.

Cancellation / Transfer by Participants (India)

4 Pack + Exam registration: Rs. 10,000 per participant processing fee (to be paid by the participant) if cancelling or transferring the course (4 Pack-CUA/CXA) registration before three weeks from the course start date. No refund or carry forward of the course fees if cancelling or transferring the course registration within three weeks before the course start date.

Individual Modules: Rs. 3,000 per participant ‘per module’ processing fee (to be paid by the participant) if cancelling or transferring the course (any Individual HFI course) registration before three weeks from the course start date. No refund or carry forward of the course fees if cancelling or transferring the course registration within three weeks before the course start date.

Exam: Rs. 3,000 per participant processing fee (to be paid by the participant) if cancelling or transferring the pre agreed CUA/CXA exam date before three weeks from the examination date. No refund or carry forward of the exam fees if requesting/cancelling or transferring the CUA/CXA exam within three weeks before the examination date.

No Recording Permitted

There will be no audio or video recording allowed in class. Students who have any disability that might affect their performance in this class are encouraged to speak with the instructor at the beginning of the class.

Course Materials Copyright

The course and training materials and all other handouts provided by HFI during the course are published, copyrighted works proprietary and owned exclusively by HFI. The course participant does not acquire title nor ownership rights in any of these materials. Further the course participant agrees not to reproduce, modify, and/or convert to electronic format (i.e., softcopy) any of the materials received from or provided by HFI. The materials provided in the class are for the sole use of the class participant. HFI does not provide the materials in electronic format to the participants in public or onsite courses.