Hellovision – ergonomics and aging.

Here’s the details.

The old man had a stroke about a year and a half ago. Because the Australian public health service is fantastic they cleared the blood clot in about 2 hours from the emergency call. No hemiplegia, although he shuffles. He has problems remembering many things, and gets irritable like you would if half your mental life was erased in one day.

My main job is the television. He had a fancy set for 1990 something, a SONY CRT, a DVD recorder and a VHS tape machine. No amount of retraining was going to get him to remember that the DVD was on input one, the tape on input two and so on. Of course this caused anxiety, because what might seem trivial to you is a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle to somebody who is trying to hold the fragments together. Keep that in mind – half of this is about control and self respect.

First problem – three remote controls. Solution, look for an ‘intelligent’ remote. I found something made by Logitec that seemed to have the right stuff – you told it what gear you owned and it would show a LCD display that had ‘Watch TV’ and ‘Play DVD’ in nice colourful letters. When you try the technology yourself, it makes sense. When you give it to somebody aged 85 you learn just how wrong you are.

For a start the buttons are little slivers next to the LCD screen. He found them after some discussion but they are ergonomic disasters. Logitec has made them identical to the frame around the LCD. What is it with designers who find controls somehow obscene and try to hide them? Oh a button – reminds me of a penis, must hide it. It’s a frigging controller not the Mona Lisa.

But the main disaster is that the remote learned a signal for ‘turn on’, which translates into ‘toggle power on the units’. So if the DVD was already turned on, then ‘turn on’ would turn on the TV and turn off the DVD. Which lead to confusion. That remote now is out of the loop.

Better solution, although a bit of a risk: buy a new TV with a DVD built in. These are not common above the size that goes into hotel rooms – I guess by the time you buy a huge TV you will go Blu Ray anyway. Didn’t have a very good choice of brands – shitty or not so shitty. JB Hifi took a month to source and deliver the not so shitty version.

Generally the problem is now much less. Once I had figured out how to hide most of the channels, it’s a matter of : turn it on, keep pressing the up arrow to change the channel, turn it off. That’s only one page of a picture book I’m creating for him. Some anxiety comes from channel 2, as there’s now channel 2 one, channel 2 two and channel 2 three. Great naming guys – we can spend hours trying to sort out why there’s a channel two two which is not channel twenty two and two three is different to three two and … anyway you get the idea.

But the bloody DVD player is taking three pages of the picture book. You can’t insert a disc until it’s the video source and the list of video sources is DTV, ATV, VGA, HDMI1, HDMI2, HDMI3, DVD, COMPONENT, COMPOSITE 1, COMPOSITE 2. Seriously people… do we need three HDMI inputs on a television set and do they have to go above the built in DVD? OK so we push the INPUT button, and keep pushing it until we get to DVD. That’s probably going to be teachable.

But then the DVD throws up a choice: DVD, MEDIA. The latter means a USB stick and it’s the frigging default. Every time he wants to run a disc it’s going to be DTV, ATV, VGA, HDMI1, HDMI2, HDMI3, DVD … DVD before the damn disc will even insert. Three pages of the picture book just to get to the image of shoving the disc in the slot.

Sure, I could install some kind of media centre thing but right now I would have to demand that it be completely logical and bug free – and you know and I know that there is no such thing. Also, keep in mind that physical discs make more sense to somebody who has grown up with media objects.

The world population gets older, the technology gets more complicated.
I can see a car crash coming on.

Attempts to hide controls are well intentioned but should not be based on aesthetics. Example – the ‘magic mouse’ on the machine I’m using has multiple controls which are hidden in one surface – worse still the monolithic touch pad. Pretty … confusing for the average user. If you have one button, OK, but don’t hide three or more as physical ‘magic meat’. Things that you might hate – step by step ‘wizards’ – bright and colourful buttons with pictures – ‘Are You Sure?’ – these things done right are going to be needed forever.

I guess this is a plea to do these things right, for people who aren’t dweebs, who might have not have the memory or vision they did 20 years younger. I suspect that as the baby boomers age they will, as they have always, drag society to fit their needs. OSX will look a lot more like Microsoft Bob.