Wine Corks and the User Experience

By this point in the semester, it is pretty clear that design is an important part of our daily lives. From the cars we drive to the places we work, our surroundings are being touched by design and human factors considerations. So, it should not be too much of a surprise to learn that design and the user experience play important roles in wine drinking. How? Mainly in the debate of screw top versus cork.

A Screw Top and a Cork (Starbard, 2014)

This controversy, in the minds of wine-drinkers, has to deal with tradition versus practicality. But, when one considers the issue from a human factors perspective, it becomes about the user experience versus product performance. Truth be told, it is difficult to say which should win.

Wine Corks

Corked wine represents a pleasurable user experience. It is the experience of using a corkscrew to twist the cork out of a wine bottle and be rewarded with a quintessential “POP.” The bottle provides feedback to the user, letting him or her know that the bottle has been successfully opened. But it is also a pleasurable experience. As written in an NPR article addressing this debate, one wine connoisseur is quoted saying “[the uncorking of a wine] is part of the ceremony.” (Aubrey, 2014) There is something undeniable about the experience of uncorking a wine that adds to a user’s satisfaction.

Screw Tops

If wine corks are about promoting a satisfactory user experience, screw tops are intended for both ease and practicality. Though they may represent a more modern take on the wine-drinking experience, screw tops also have a lot of practical uses that may make them better than wine corks. First, screw tops prevent oxygen from leaking into an opened bottle, preserving the freshness of the wine. (Aubrey, 2014) Second, they are much easier to use than their corky counterparts. Anyone can unscrew a bottle of wine, whereas uncorking a bottle requires a special tool and, in many cases, a great deal of strength. Last, screw tops are more durable than the average wine cork. Unlike corks, screw tops do not crumble into a bottle and ruin the wine.

One has to look at the debate of cork versus screw top wine as a debate over something larger: do we value a satisfactory experience or a practical and efficient experience more?


Aubrey, Allison. (January 2, 2014) Cork Versus Screw Cap: Don’t Judge a Wine by How its Sealed. National Public Radio. Retrieved from:

Starbard, Maggie. (2014) Screw Top Wines. Retrieved from:

Human Factors at the Grocery Store

Lately, after coming home from the grocery store, I’ve been noticing that even though I intend to buy plain Greek yogurt, I have bought coconut flavored. After this happened for the second time, I knew I had to go back and figure out how, and why, I had made this mistake on more than one occasion. Each time the error had occurred, I had reached into the yogurt shelf, looking right at the plain Greek yogurt, and had grabbed what I thought was the item I wanted. Little did I know that while I was the victim of a grocery store snafu, I was also witnessing human factors in action.

I went back to the grocery store and quickly identified what the problem was. But I do not want to give it away, so let’s see if I can lead you to the same conclusion I reached. 

Here’s a picture of the yogurt section at the grocery store. It is exactly what you would see while perusing the aisle.

The Yogurt Section

At first glance, there does not appear to be any issues here. The different yogurts are well organized and it is easy to identify yogurts from one another. But, if one gets a bit closer, it becomes a bit more clear what the problem is.

The plain yogurt, with a light blue label, is on the left in this picture. On the right,  with a very similar label, is the coconut yogurt.  Placing these two, nearly-identically labeled yogurts is a confusing design flaw in the layout of the yogurt display. In my opinion, this design flaw is a great example of human error.

Author Don Norman writes that one of the major causes of error is time pressure. (Norman, 2013) At the grocery store, shoppers are stressed an in a rush. It is likely that others, like myself, are not interested in spending a lot of time finding the yogurt they want. What they want, instead, is to be able to quickly identify the product they are looking for and put it in their carts. I am imagining a thought process much like mine was “Plain yogurt..light blue label… three yogurts with a light blue label.” People are not expecting two similarly labeled, yet different, products to be right next to each other and thus, when this happens, it leads to confusion.

The error of purchasing the wrong yogurt is my fault, as I could have been more attentive when shopping. But Don Norman writes that it is important to never assume the first cause of error you think of is the root cause of the problem. This system of inquiry is called the “Five Why’s,” as it makes one think deeper about what causes error (Norman, 2013).   Thinking more about this, I believe that it is the design of the yogurt section that is the root cause of the error of purchasing the wrong yogurt, rather than simply me being a distracted shopper.


Norman, Don. 2013. The Design of Everyday Things. New York, NY: Basic Books. pp 164-65


Virtual Reality and User Experience

The field of virtual reality could not be hotter right now. From the Oculus Rift to Google Cardboard, VR is quickly finding its way into homes across the world. While virtual reality may be a great addition to the world of gaming, researchers have been quick to explore its potential for solving real problems in society. One of these pursuits has been targeting PTSD and the capabilities of virtual reality to help soldiers returning from war to overcome the trauma of combat.

The Oculus Rift (

The project to help soldiers cope with PTSD after returning from war was spearheaded by Albert Rizzo, a researcher at USC Davis. By giving PTSD patients a VR headset, Rizzo allows them to experience the combat zone again and again. This is extremely traumatizing at first, but over time, patients have shown massive improvements. This process, called “habituation”, is somewhat controversial because it forces patients to relive their experiences. But through this process, patients also develop a sense of control over the situations that haunt them.

What One of Rizzo’s Patients May See- USC Institute for Creative Technologies

This is a relevant topic in several schools of thought, especially human factors for the elements of user experience that must be considered. When creating any virtual reality world, one must consider how the user will be able to experience it as if it were a real environment. When attempting to make this experience relatable for a specific purpose such as re-enacting a war zone, these considerations are even more important. For example, it is not enough to simply put a headset on a PTSD patient and expect the experience to mirror that of being in war. To make the scenario feel as real as possible, soldiers are given a camelback filled with water and a fake gun. The designers behind these virtual reality scenarios must consider the visual experience, but the physical experience as well.

When designing anything, one must consider how it will be used by an individual and how to tailor the design to meet these needs. The researchers behind the VR and PTSD experiment have taken this into account and have created their project with the goal of mimicking all aspects of a war zone. The sounds, sensations, and visuals are all included in order to assist soldiers in regaining control over their lives.



  1. Retrieved From
  2. USC Institute for Creative Technologies. Retrieved From
  3. Parkin, Simon.(2017) How Virtual Reality is Helping Soldiers with PTSD.              NBC News. Retrieved from

“Siri, Write Me a Blog Post”

When I finally got an iPhone with Siri, I thought it was the best thing in the world. To be able to use my phone with only my voice was such a useful addition to a device I use a lot. From driving in the car and needing to text or call someone, to being able to use my phone from across the room, using voice recognition has helped me appreciate my device as something more than just a way to access social media.

But, I had never considered how useful this device could be until a few days ago when I was watching a youtube video. This video was titled “Kids Meet Someone with Muscular Dystrophy”. The video is part of a youtube series in which these kids meet people with handicaps, diseases, interesting careers, etc. Essentially, its all about showing how kids are really accepting of diversity and want to learn about it. I will include a link to the video at the end of this blog post because it really is great! Anyway, this one girl asked the man with muscular dystrophy if he can use a computer and if he is able to type. His response was “No, I can’t type anymore, so I use voice recognition software when I want to use a computer.” I had never realized that voice recognition software, like Siri or her colleagues, could be so useful for disabled people.

Siri and similar voice recognition software are always ready to help! (MacWorld)

Accessibility Software

I decided to learn more about how voice recognition software is used to help individuals who may not be able to use a keyboard. I discovered that this software is used for several needs, including mobility issues and learning disabilities. What I found interested was that voice recognition software is very popular among people with dyslexia, as they frequently struggle to record their thoughts and ideas by writing. It also opens up the world of technology to individuals with issues such as tendonitis, arthritis, and muscular problems. Really anyone can benefit from voice recognition software, as it learns the way users speak and thus can overcome any speech impairments or accents a user may have. (A1 Productivity) Once the software learns how a person speaks, the user can make commands, type, and even move the clicker by voice! (BBC)  Of course, mistakes may happen, but many software programs, such as the “market leader” Dragon NaturallySpeaking, allow for users to playback what they have written in order to look for any errors. This could be particularly helpful for individuals with learning disabilities who may have challenges reading off of a screen.

What a Screen May Look like Using Dragon Naturally Speaking (

Applications to Human Factors

I enjoyed learning more about this technology because prior to this experience, I had not truly understood how beneficial voice recognition software can be to people. A major element in the realm of human factors is designing products that allow people to meet their needs effectively and efficiently. In a world where so much of our lives happen online if people with disabilities are unable to use the internet, we are effectively precluding them from a great deal of society.


  1. Video that inspired me:

    2. Amazon.


    3.A1 Productivity. Overcome Disabilities. 2013.

4. BBC. Voice Recognition Software- An Introduction. 2009.

5. MacWorld. Siri Voice Commands.

The Self-Driving Car Controversy

Last week, I was fortunate enough to get to go to San Fransisco, California for my spring break. My first day there, my aunt was driving me and my boyfriend to her house from the airport. Suddenly, something drove by on the opposite side of the road that looked like it belonged in some futuristic cartoon show. “What was that?” I exclaimed.

“Oh wow, that was so cool!” My boyfriend, Adam, said.

“Oh my gosh, wow, that is such a cool sight for your first day in San Fransisco!” My aunt said. Clearly, the two of them knew something I did not.

“What was that thing?” I asked again.

“That was a self-driving car!” My aunt replied, “Welcome to San Fransisco!”

A self-driving car (

What are Self-Driving Cars?

Self-driving cars are almost exactly what it sounds like: vehicles that are capable of operating without a driver. They can navigate, control, and operate themselves autonomously. Many companies have been prototyping variations of self-driving cars, but most have a similar way of functioning. According to an article by the Union of Concerned Scientists, these cars generally use software, algorithms, and radar to operate themselves.  (UCS, 2018). Some self-driving cars are more autonomous than others, as some can operate without a driver and others need a driver in some situations. This is a pretty interesting advancement for science.

Introducing Controversy

Since the concept of self-driving vehicles was introduced, there have been questions regarding the safety and morality of these cars. How would they handle difficult situations? Can they actually avoid obstacles? How are the serious, ethical decisions involved here going to be solved? The first thing I thought about when reading up on the skeptics of driverless vehicles was that ethical scenario in which a person is forced to decide whether a train should run over five people or one. With self-driving cars, what if the car was heading towards a crowd or people, and the only alternative to killing them was to run the car into something else and kill the passengers? How can a person make decisions on who lives or dies? In this modern age of such advanced technology, we not only have to consider the mechanical details involved, but also the moral and ethical implications involved in what we create.

The Classic “Trolley Problem” (

These questions were brought into the spotlight just a few weeks ago when a pedestrian was killed by one of Uber’s self-driving cars. Though there was an emergency back-up driver in the car, neither he nor the car was able to detect the pedestrian before she was struck and killed (Wakabayashi, 2018). This tragedy highlights the fact that self-driving cars are not flawless and that things like this will still occur even when human error is taken out of the picture.


  1. Self-Driving Car,
  2. Self-Driving Cars Explained. (n.d.). Retrieved March 26, 2018, from
  3. Trolley Problem. (n.d.).Retrieved March 26, 2018, from
  4. Wakabayashi, D. (2018, March 19). Self-Driving Uber Car Kills Arizona Pedestrian. Retrieved March 26, 2018, from


Making Sex Accessible

Today I want to discuss a topic that I had never given much thought to, and I’m sure many others haven’t either: sex toys that are made for use by people with disabilities. I know, to most able-bodied people, this topic may sound really strange! But when an article about it came up on my facebook feed, I was really intrigued by what  I read and I see this blog as an opportunity to raise awareness about an important issue.

Accessible Sex Toys and the Link to Human Factors

A lot of people utilize sex toys, be it for personal use or to share with a partner. The problem is, that most mainstream sex toys require a person to be able-bodied due to their weight, materials, and operating systems. So, people who have some form of a disability are often excluded due to gripping problems, mobility issues, issues with motor control, chronic pain, and paralysis, to name a few. When a large portion of the population is precluded from the sex toy market, they are effectively being denied the ability to be sexual individuals, something that many of us take for granted. So how to solve this problem? Several companies have begun designing sex toys for individuals with disabilities. These sex toys usually use mainstream designs as a foundation, but adapt them by making considerations for disabled people. I felt that this was really relevant to human factors and User-Centered Design, as these devices actually help people meet their needs via special design considerations. This is a really interesting link between human factors, body positivity, and equality!

Some Examples

As I do not want to make anyone feel uncomfortable by getting too explicit, I will not include pictures of these examples. If people are interested, I will include links to the articles I found most interesting in exploring this topic!

1.Toy Mounts: Several companies, such as Hitachi, have created “mounts” for their personal massagers. These mounts cater to the needs of individuals who may suffer from mobility issues or need a wheelchair. By creating this accessory, the population that can use this device increases, as it no longer excludes individuals with mobility issues from using the massager!

2. “Special” Chairs: One company, Intimate Rider, makes special chairs for individuals with mobility issues to be intimate with their partners. The ability to have sexual intercourse is one that a lot of able-bodied individuals take for granted and devices like this really help disabled people embrace their sexuality.

3.REACH by Revel Body: The REACH by Revel Body is essentially a long handle that attaches to a vibrator made by Revel Body. This handle makes the use of sex toys more accessible, especially to individuals who may not be able to use their arms as effectively as able-bodied individuals or may get easily fatigued.

Summing it all Up

I found the topic of making and designing sex toys that are accessible to disabled individuals to be really interesting because it shows how the people who design these products are thinking about how to design products that best meet the needs of their customers. More importantly, these companies are not just thinking about the able-bodied population, but are identifying a portion of the population that has been excluded from the market and are using design to make these products, and sexuality, more accessible to them.



  1. Alptraum, L. (2015, November 02). How to Design Sex Toys for People with Disabilities. Retrieved March 16, 2018, from
  2. Hay, M. (2018, March 09). More Sex Toy Companies Should Be Catering to People With Disabilities. Retrieved March 16, 2018, from
  3. Our Bodies, Our Sex Toys: 6 Accessible Sex Toys. (2016, July 06). Retrieved March 16, 2018, from


Human Factors at the Gym


Today at the gym, I decided to take a risk with my workout. I decided that I was going to use the Stairmaster for the first time. For those who are unfamiliar with this piece of gym equipment, the Stairmaster is essentially a treadmill, but instead of running on a flat surface, you continually walk up stairs. It’s incredibly difficult and makes for a great, albeit grueling, workout. Almost immediately after getting on, I began to notice a problem. As soon as a user gets on the Stairmaster, he or she has to start going up the steps. The steps are a little shorter than average steps, requiring a little bit more concentration on behalf of the user. In addition to this issue, the controls offered to the user are ambiguous at best. Trying to figure out how to adjust the multiple settings then, on top of focusing on going up stairs, seems to me like a recipe for disaster. And I may be right: research shows that every year, approximately 50,000 people suffer injuries due to gym equipment. Yikes.


User safety is a major concern in the world of human factors, especially when thinking about how a design could affect this. Don Norman, author of “The Design of Everyday Things”, discusses sources of error in his book. He writes “Error occurs for many reasons. The most common is in the nature of the tasks and procedures that require people to behave in unnatural ways…multitasking, doing several things at once, and subjected to multiple interfering activities.” (163). Essentially, the more a design requires someone to multitask, the more likely the chance of an error occurring. While it is not too difficult to walk up stairs and configure some settings, the controls on the Stairmaster at the Tufts gym don’t make it easy on users to have an error-free experience. As a first time user, I pushed five different buttons and had no idea what they were doing. This design could clearly benefit from signifiers that make the experience easier and free from error. In trying to figure out how to get my desired speed and resistance, I almost fell multiple times.


It interesting to see how many design considerations are involved in the most everyday things. In this one piece of gym equipment, we can observe user-centered design, signifiers, and safety considerations. It goes to show that safety is not as simple as we may think, it’s actually the intersection of so many elements.



1.Norman, D. A. (2013). The design of everyday things. London: MIT Press.

2. (2016). Retrieved March 8, 2018, from

3. Dahl, M. (2010, January 29). Gym-goers trip, flip, and fall in pursuit of fitness. Retrieved March 8, 2018, from

Human Centered Design: It’s Everywhere

A major element of design is making sure that a product effectively meets the needs of users. But there are other considerations as well, such as cost, usability, reliability, and appearance. Clearly, there are several things one must think about when designing a product. So how does one go about designing something that meets all these requirements? One solution is Human Centered Design or HCD. Human Centered Design is a process intended to accomplish two goals. First, it must “solve the right problem” (Norman, 219). This means that it does not simply solve the obvious issues, but also those issues that are at the root of everything. Second, one must solve those problems in a way that also meets the needs of users. It’s great to solve problems, but if humans cannot utilize the product in an efficient way, then a product is essentially useless.  The process of Human Centered Design is comprised of four main steps, although there are several different methods of going about it. Despite how one approaches HCD, there is always the same end goal: to create something that is useful to people.

Step 1: Observation

The first step to solving any problem is understanding the issues and processes associated with it. In order to do this, a designer must observe people to understand how they interact with products. Through observation, one can understand how people use a product, how it affects them, and any issues that may be present with the product in its current state.

Step 2: Ideation

Ideation essentially means coming up with ideas or brainstorming. It follows observation, as once a designer has a better idea of how a product is used, he or she can start generating solutions. The step of ideation is creative, as it allows a designer to come up with new, creative solutions to problems.

Step 3: Prototyping

Prototyping is the phase of HCD that allows designers to test their ideas on real users to find errors and discover areas in need of improvement. It is a crucial phase, as it can illuminate considerations that had not been addressed or bring attention to poorly designed elements of a product. Most importantly, it gives designers the opportunity to see if their product can be used by people in a way that actually solves their problems and meets their needs.

Step 4: Testing

The testing phase of the HCD process is less about problem specification than prototyping and more about meeting the needs of users. In order to effectively test a design, one must find a group of people who closely resemble the target population of the product. By testing a design on a group similar to their target population, designers can see if their product is effective and meets the needs it was designed to.

Examples of HCD in the Real World

Human Centered Design is all around us in the things we use every day, which came from people making observations about the world around them and using these observations to solve problems. Velcro, for example, came from an observation of prickly burrs in nature, which naturally stick to things. iPod shuffles, with their little clips, came from an observation that people liked to run with their music. Medical devices, tooth brushes, and hospital rooms too are all things that have been touched by HCD.


  1. The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman
  4. Beth Kanter,
  5. Motashim Ahmed,

Human Factors in the Kitchen

The Problem:

It happens almost every weekend. Either my roommate or I are cooking something in our crockpot and then all of a sudden the house is shaken by an ear-shattering scream. Someone didn’t know it was on and burned themselves. Since getting the crockpot in late October, this has happened almost regularly. I had always chalked this up to the sheer clumsiness of my housemates. But once I entered Introduction to Human Factors and Ergonomics, I couldn’t help but think: is this something more than just human error? Maybe there’s a serious design flaw involved. Let’s take a look, shall we?

The Basics:

This is my crockpot. It is pretty average, though it is made from environmentally-friendly materials, so bonus points for that. It has one control, a dial with three levels: off, high, and low. This too is pretty typical for a crockpot. The design is incredibly simple, which eliminates a lot of user error. Its essentially impossible to use it incorrectly, other than forgetting to turn it off or overcooking some chili. But time and time again it has proven to be unsafe, so where is the cause?

After some investigation, I came to the conclusion that the problem with this crockpot is not me or the other people who use it. It’s the design. Let’s take a closer look…

The control dial on the crockpot

The crockpot in question

Analyzing the Problem

There is no real way to tell if the device is on or off!! Sure, the dial turned to off is an indicator, but the text is small and difficult to read from any distance other than right in front of it. According to a piece by Fred Schenkelberg from Accendo Reliability, “People build, transport, use, maintain and dispose of equipment…thus, the creation of these items should include consideration of the humans involved…” one of the basic design functions that Schenkelberg mentions must be taken into consideration is “Make functions obvious- the equipment should not present puzzles or hidden controls for fundamental functionality”. This advice is expanded as the author considers how one can go about making functions obvious. Schenkelberg writes “provide warning labels- increase awareness to avoid damage during equipment handling, installation, operation or maintenance”. If we take Schenkelberg’s advice, which seems sensible and trustworthy, then this crockpot is lacking these basic design considerations. First, it does not have a real system in place to make it obvious to users that the device is on and hot. The dial indicates it is on, but again, it is hard to see when one is not really paying attention to the device. Second, the only warning label in place lacks contrast or any way to really notice that the device is hot and could cause burns. It fails to alert people to the potential dangers involved with touching a scalding hot appliance and without this, my housemates forget it could be on while going about their daily lives. This design becomes particularly unhelpful when one considers the fact this label is always there, as is the crockpot. An unchanging label quickly becomes commonplace and meaningless, therefore failing to actually “increase awareness” of potential harm.

It seems as though the basic problem here involves feedback or lack thereof. Don Norman, in his book “The Design of Everyday Things”, describes feedback as “the information that aids in understanding what has happened…there is full and continuous information about the results of actions and the current state of the product”( Norman, 72).

Finding a Solution

So what’s the solution? To me, as a frequent user (and victim) of this crockpot, it seems pretty simple. The design is lacking a very simple indicator of danger, so what it needs is a more noticeable way to tell users and others in the kitchen “Watch out! This device is on and hot!” Sure, the little hand warning label is cute, but it blends into the overall design. A small, bright light could easily alert people to be cautious around the crockpot.People are dumb. People are oblivious. Feedback can help overcome this.

Some Designs that Provide Better Feedback

The light on this crockpot is a great way to provide feedback to users!



  1. Fred Schenkelberg, Accendo Reliability, General Human Factors Design Principles
  2. Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things, Page 72


Human Factors: Defined

In 2000, the International Ergonomics Association defined ergonomics as “the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theories, principles, data, and other methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance”. [i] But what does this definition actually mean? The field of human factors and ergonomics is about how humans interact with the world around them and how these studies can be used to maximize efficiency and safety. It is about designing things with the intention of having them interact with individuals, but also applying these studies to improving people’s jobs and environments.  Most of all, it about creating a synthesis between humans and the words around them.


It is a field that examines multiple elements of humans in order to optimize design. By taking into account how humans make decisions with the information they receive, their actions, and their interactions, human factors engineers are able to design things in order to work in harmony with human users. In order to do this, they must consider things such as psychology, technology, physical interactions, and many other factors. Basically, they have to ask themselves: what are the ways in which individuals interact with the world around them? This means taking into account the psychological and physical interactions, but also the issues that may arise during a human’s interaction with a system such as injury, fatigue, accidents, and more.

This diagram shows the ways human factors are applied in the workplace.

Human factors and ergonomics are all around us, all the time. The objects in your kitchen have been designed with human factors in mind, to keep people safe and be easy to use. In healthcare, human factors are used to appraise devices, environments, and user in order to make sure that practices and devices are operated safely and effectively. At the workplace and in industry, human factors present themselves everywhere. This ranges from the work environment to how workers do their jobs to how equipment is used. When human factors are employed, processes are made more efficient and safer. Essentially, they improve the lives of humans in a multitude of ways, even if they aren’t always obvious.



Photo 1:

Photo 2: