News: in print, on the Web, on a mobile device

12 Mar 2014

I’ve been thinking about how we read the news, and how the “device” we use affects how much we read. And that affects how much we learn about the world.

I think that reading news in print is better than reading online. Here are two important reasons:

  1. Getting hooked by a story. Look at a printed page, and you get a lot of information; not so online. The extra text in print can get my attention, even if the headline doesn’t. And paging through the paper provides a backup — when I get to the jump page, sometimes the continuation of the story gets my attention, even if the first view of it didn’t. The homepage and section homepages online generally have a headline and a sentence or two; that’s not always enough to draw me in to a story.
  2. Is this new news or old news? Today’s print paper is today’s paper. Today’s online newspaper is a mix of new stories and old. I was shocked one time to find that I was starting to read a story from a couple of months earlier.

Here are some examples from a recent day’s news. Click an image to blow it up, but look from this bird’s-eye view first and get an idea of how much information each medium initially provides. I think that’s important.

This is not meant to be exhaustive, nor scientific. But you have to start somewhere. What  do you think about reading online vs reading print, especially for news?

The New York Times. Available in these formats: A new Web app. The Web site offers two versions: one is current news, I believe, while the other is the day’s print paper online. The Times Reader app may no longer be supported, but it was when I captured these images.

New York Times Web app

New York Times Web app

New York Web site- iPhone

New York Web site- iPhone

New York - Today's paper - iPhone

New York – Today’s paper – iPhone

New York Times Reader

New York Times Reader

New York Times front page - print

New York Times front page – print

New York Times daily email

New York Times daily email

The Boston Globe. At the time of these screen captures, there was a Web site, an app and the print version.

Boston - iPhone

Boston – iPhone



Boston Globe front page

Boston Globe front page in print

Boston Globe app

Boston Globe app

The Boston Herald. This is unique because readers see more information with the online front pages than in print.

Boston Herald front page, print

Boston Herald front page, print

Boston Herald app, iPhone

Boston Herald app, iPhone




Assistive devices for low-vision and hearing-impaired people

23 Jan 2014

I was visiting someone recently who has severe vision and hearing problems. The number and types of assistive devices that he has is amazing. Most of them came from the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

Memory takes the place of vision with some of these devices: each has its own controls and layout to remember. It’s quite amazing to watch someone use them all. Click the images to see them larger.

Prescription-label readerThe ScripTalk Station reads prescription labels aloud. It gets information from an RFID chip in the label, so the medication has to come from a pharmacy that uses these labels (like the VA).

An occupational therapist provided some interesting tips: put a rubber band at the top of a bottle for morning doses, and at the bottom for evening. Turn the bottle over after taking the meds, then reset it the next day.

High-volume phoneAs it says on the handset, this is a LOUD telephone. I had to turn it way down to use it. The buttons are large enough for many low-vision people (and I blurred out the names on the top of the phone).

People with severe vision problems can contact the phone company to get an exemption from directory assistance charges. AT&T offers services through its Accessibility & Disability Services and The National Center for Customers with Disabilities.

TV listening deviceWilliams Sound makes SoundPlus TV listening devices like this. The base connects to the television, and sends the sound via infrared signals to the receiver, which the listener wears.

Sound on the television can be at a regular level for people without hearing problems, and the wearer can adjust the volume on the receiver.

Magnifier and text reader Two reading devices: On the left, is a magnifier. You can see the corner of a yellow page under the screen. This is good for simple documents.

On the right is the Extreme Reader by Second Vision. It does text-to-speech conversion and reads documents out loud. You can see a newspaper in the device, and the simple control panel with four big buttons. It’s obviously slower than reading on your own, but it’s an amazing thing to have when you can’t.

Talking blood pressure cuffThis HealthSmart blood pressure cuff speaks instructions, measures blood pressure and then speaks the results. It provides a general diagnosis (“According to World Health Organization recommendations…”)

I saw a similar device for measuring blood glucose levels.

Very large-type calendar Not everything is electronic. Large-print calendars like this are very helpful. One source for them is LS&S, “the catalog of products for the visually impaired and hard of hearing”. Other simple accommodations include small velcro strips on washing machines and dishwashers to help get oriented on the control panels.

Color and light meterThis one is my favorite: Press the red button to hear what color an item is, which can help vision-impaired people pick coordinating clothing (or carpets, for that matter).

Press the yellow button to get an audible signal that indicates the light level of the room. You don’t want to invite friends over for coffee if they can’t see the cake!

Where does the credit card go?

30 Sep 2013

I bought stamps at the Post office today and saw that they have new terminals for swiping credit cards. It was this one, or one just like it.

The new card swipe terminal at the US Post Office

The Ingenico iSC 350
Quick: where would you swipe your credit card?

Perhaps because I was looking at the pen, but I tried to swipe the card in the slot just under the pen. But that’s not where the card goes, that’s just a space between two parts of the device. The card goes in the space just above the keypad (which wasn’t lit up when I used it).

The funny thing is that the clerk said that I wasn’t the first person who did that! Maybe a little usability testing would have helped.

Update (7 Aug 2014)
When I bought stamps today, I noticed that the slot at the top of the machine was covered with tape. The clerk said they had to do it because so many people tried swiping their cards there.

Tape covers the slot that many people (including me) tried to use for swiping credit cards

Well, that’s one way to fix the problem.

A chair you can’t fall off of

26 Sep 2013

A chair you can't fall off of

Instead of having four legs, this desk chair has a sled base that’s not flat. We took our son to college recently, and found these in the dorm rooms.

The angled base allows the sitter to lean back, but it stops the chair from going too far back. It’s like a two-position rocking chair.Legs are subject to damage when a chair is tipped, but this avoids that problem.

I’ll have to ask how comfortable it is.

Climbing up the bus

14 Aug 2013

As I approached the bike store, I saw some people working on a trolley bus, the kind that draws power from overhead wires. Then, while I was locking it to a pole, the mechanic walked over and climbed up to the top of the bus. I’d never noticed that trolley buses have built-in ladders.

This is probably easier than designing a place to stow a ladder inside the bus, and it doesn’t require any extra clearance the way a ladder would. That probably makes it safer. I don’t recall seeing any warning signs for the climber, though.

MBTA bus ladder with steps shown opened and closed

Steps closed (left) and open for mechanics to climb to the roof (right).

It took me by surprise to see the mechanic climb up the side of the bus, or I’d have take a photo of him climbing!

A simple solution for elder security

17 Apr 2013

I was visiting at a senior living community lately, and saw a great low-tech security device.

Security marker set

Security personnel walk the halls overnight, flipping these little markers up against the doors of each apartment…

Security marker released

… and when the resident opens the door, the marker falls. Security staff walk through the halls during the morning and can check on anyone whose marker isn’t released.

User reactions to self-service features: Is it “Hey, I already have a job, I don’t need to do yours, too”?

7 Sep 2012

Companies obviously want to cut down on calls to customer care centers to save money. One way is to allow (force?) users to do more things themselves. We’ve been recovering passwords ourselves for a long time, and many products include other self-service tasks. Even libraries allow patrons to check out their own books.

In a recent design project, I was afraid that customers would dislike the self-service tools we were adding. I thought they might have the same reaction that I have to self-checkout lanes in stores: “Hey, I already have a job. I don’t want to check out and bag my own stuff here!”

Self-service checkout in a supermarket

But that wasn’t the case. Our users liked the new self-service tools.

We talked with a lot of users in usability studies and customer visits.  They mostly had gotten good results when they called for assistance, but it seemed easier to do things themselves.

Calling customer care may seem like more of an interruption, while doing something yourself may seem more like an extension of what you’re already doing. Making the call requires a lot of work:

  • Deciding that the problem is big enough to bother someone about
  • Wondering if there’s enough time for the call
  • Finding out if customer care is available
  • Looking for the phone number & making the call
  • Going through the voice menu
  • Waiting on hold
  • Explaining the problem, discussing it and maybe being transferred.
  • … and then finally getting a solution

The early results for this product are good. It seems that customers are doing more tasks themselves, and the company is getting fewer phone calls.

Have you noticed that you’re doing more things yourself on the Web? What do you think about it? Are companies forcing you to do their work, or is it a time saver?