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In keeping with this season of traditions, HFI's December newsletter recaps the key findings outlined in 2006's Putting Research into Practice seminar.

The recent research findings in the PRP seminar are updated annually. During the update process, HFI's R&D team surveys peer-reviewed papers and conference presentations from a range of disciplines that inform the work of human factors and usability professionals. We review papers from:

  1. Human-Computer Interaction
  2. Ergonomics
  3. Cognitive Science
  4. Social Psychology
  5. Computer Science
  6. Marketing
  7. Economics
  8. And others...

Seminar papers are chosen because they offer:

  1. Provocative new findings
  2. New data to answer perennial questions
  3. Forward-looking findings
  4. Information that advances the field of usability

In addition, this year we also include the latest findings from prior editions of the UI Design Newsletter of 2006.

As in previous years, our December issue presents research findings, not guidelines. This approach gives practitioners quick access to recent research citations to support their design decisions. Together with previous Annual Research Review newsletters (03 | 04 | 05), this update extends our repository of just-in-time references.

By the way, if you read one only paper about usability this year, read this one:

Resnick, M.L. and Sanchez, J. (2004). "Effects of Organizational Scheme and Labeling on Task Performance in Product-Centered and User-Centered Retail Web Sites." Human Factors, 46 (1).


When assessing Web accessibility under four conditions (Expert Review, Screen Reader using JAWS, Automated Testing via "Bobby", and Remote Testing by blind users) those using Screen Readers found the most issues, while Automated Testing found the least number of accessibility issues. (Mankoff, Fait, and Tran, 2005)

Short summaries of Web pages, such as those created automatically by using Firefox's Summarize tool, are preferred by users over conventionally written ones. Summaries support users' natural scanning behavior, and are especially helpful to visually-impaired readers. (Harper and Patel, 2005)

Legibility for low-vision users is improved by using wider characters with extended spacing. Of the standard fonts, Times New Roman is the best option for users with low vision. (Arditi, 2004)

Aging /Older Users

Be careful to avoid stereotypes about older adults when designing Web sites, especially since the population of older adults is increasing in the U.S., along with their online usage. (O'Hara, 2004)

A robust and concise set of guidelines now exists for designing Web sites for use by older adults. (Kurniawan and Zaphiri, 2005)

In a stylus-based, drag-and-drop task using graphical icons, older adults – both with and without visual impairments – were successfully able to interact with hand-held devices. The addition of auditory feedback on the hand-held devices helped users, regardless of age or visual impairment. (Leonard, Jacko, and Pizzimenti, 2005)

Older adults may have a more difficult time detecting and reacting to visual changes in a scene while engaged in conversation. (McCarley, et al., 2004)

Older adults would benefit from using a direct positioning device such as a light pen (instead of a mouse) on computer tasks that require pointing as the main operation. (Charness, et al., 2004)

Building Brands: Narrative Presentation

Narrative presentation enhances comprehension and memory. Narrative advertisements produce more positive attitude about the brand and a higher incidence of intent to purchase. (Escalas, 2004)

Cultural Considerations

If your Web site will be used across cultures, be sure to test organizational metaphors and structures. (Shaikh, et al., 2005)

Online shopping behavior is influenced by the shoppers' trust and economic condition, which vary by country. Online shoppers outside the U.S. will account for over half of online purchases by the end of the decade. (Mahmood, Bagchi, and Ford, 2004)

Driving while Multi-Tasking

Conversing on a hands-free cell phone while driving has a negative effect on driver performance, regardless of age. (Strayer and Drew, 2004)

People are less likely to detect and react to changes in a visual scene while engaged in conversation, such as when talking to a passenger or on a cell phone while driving. However, listening to a conversation doesn't seem to have an effect. (McCarley, et al., 2004)

Speech recognition for address entry while driving is shorter and safer than using a touch-screen keyboard, although some degradation of vehicle control is still a factor. (Tsimhoni, Smith, and Green, 2004)

E-commerce: Timing and Tone of Product Recommendations

The earlier in the decision process a product is recommended, the more likely it is that users will choose that product. Surprisingly, use of a negative tone increased the chances that the recommendation would be considered. (Ho and Tam, 2005)

Engendering User Trust

Trust is important for Web sites and applications since a breach of trust early on can have dire effects on the business and customer relations. (Lee and See, 2004)

The elements of content, navigation, interaction, and presentation all seem to play a role in determining a site's trustworthiness. (Corritore, et al., 2003; Sillence, et al., 2004)

Text-to-Speech helps promote trust at Web sites, and is more effective without being combined with regular text chat. (Qiu and Benbasat, 2005)

Eye Tracking During Usability Testing

Eye-tracking data can supplement users' verbal reports on their reactions to Web pages. Breaking down pages into specific areas of interest can provide information on where users may be looking first, most often, and longest on the pages. (Russell, 2005)

Recent improvements in eye tracking technology indicate that in comparative evaluations of Web designs during early prototyping, eye fixation and gazing data can help uncover subtle differences and issues that could point to significant usability problems. This is especially valuable for detecting problems with information architecture and distracting/irrelevant Web page design components. (Bojko, 2006)


Rules of thumb for icons: make them as large as feasible, place frequently used icons in a persistent task bar, and arrange them either in a square (first choice) or in a horizontal layout. (Grobelny, Karwowski and Drury, 2005)

Keyboard shortcuts are not used despite being easy to learn. Even experienced users succumb to time-consuming habitual behaviors rather than adopt more efficient techniques. (Lane, Napier Peres and Sandor, 2005)

Information Architecture: The Importance of Grouping vs. Labeling

The organizational structure (grouping and schema) has oft been touted as the key to good Web site design. To the contrary, the Resnick and Sanchez study indicates that generating high quality labels is more critical. First concentrate on creating user-centered labels; then focus on the structure of the site. (Resnick and Sanchez, 2004)

Mouse Pad Hype: Smooth or Textured?

Specialized mouse pads offer no true performance benefit over traditional mouse pads, or even over just a plain low-glare table surface. (Slocum and Thompson, 2005)

Multi-Channel Information Processing

Avoid simultaneous audio playback of onscreen text when designing multimedia instruction. You should only present text and audio concurrently if their content is different. The exception: use of auditory files for users with visual impairment. (Kalyuga, Chandler and Sweller, 2004)

Multi-tasking: Do tactile cues help or hurt? Using cell-phone-like vibrations to re-direct user attention from one visual task to another can be useful, without having a negative performance on either task. (Hopp, Smith, Clegg and Heggestad, 2005)

Product Features: How Many Are Too Many?

Despite the fact that users stated that perceived usability decreased as features increased, they still overwhelmingly preferred to own the product with the most features. Prior to using a feature-rich product, users focused more on capability than usability; but after usage, users were more satisfied with the simpler product. (Rust, Thompson, and Hamilton, 2006)


A format of 95 characters per line was read significantly faster than shorter line lengths; however, there were no significant differences in comprehension, preference, or overall satisfaction, regardless of line length. (Shaikh, 2005)

Screen vs. Print: 100 characters per line seems to be the optimal length for on-screen reading speed; however, there's a mismatch between subjective measures and objective performance. Although longer line lengths are read faster, people prefer a more moderate length. Also, a single, wide column is read faster, but users prefer multiple narrow columns. (Dyson, 2004)

Fast readers are most speedy and most efficient with a two-column, fully-justified format. Slower readers benefit most from a single-column, left-justified layout. (Baker, 2005)

Serif and sans serif typefaces are equally legible; claims to the contrary are largely unsubstantiated. (Poole, 2004)

Black text on white background is the combination users prefer, and the one they rate as most "professional"; however, if you use other color combinations, users will remember what they read just as well. (Hall and Hanna, 2004)

The Myth Debunked: The more complex the stimulus, the harder it is to complete the task, i.e., "Raeding wrods with jumbled letters" has more "cognitive cost" than reading normal text. (Rayner, White, Johnson, and Liversedge, 2006)

Survey Response Rates: Web vs. Mail

E-mailed surveys are cheaper and have the same response rates as postal mailed surveys when proper motivating tools, such as advance-notice postcards, are used. (Kaplowitz. Hadlock, and Levine, 2004)

Usability Testing: The Changing Landscape

Automated vs. moderated testing: qualitative and quantitative results were comparable; however more usability problems were found with the moderated tests. (West and Lehman, 2006)

There's more to prototypes than "lo-fidelity vs. hi fidelity": the dimensions of visual refinement, breadth of functions, depth of functions, interactivity, and richness of data models are also important. (McCurdy, et al., 2006)

Testing one vs. many designs: Users were less critical when evaluating a single design than when evaluating multiple designs. (Tohidi, et al., 2006)

Thinking aloud now vs. later: Users described their performance after completing a task just as well as they did during the task; however, they were more prone to omit information in the post-task recall. (Guan, et al., 2006)

Despite user attempts to explain what they do and why, most actions and decisions are made on an unconscious level, and are not available to the think-aloud technique. (Wilson, 2004)

Performance Data vs. Process Data: Which should you collect? Depends on the level of improvement you want to make to your UI. If the goal is to increase both task completion and perceived ease of use, then collecting traditional UT data (process data) in addition to Web analytics (performance data) is critical. (Kelkar, et al., 2005)

Visual Layout: Searching and Scanning

GUI vs. Web – In general, visual layout guidelines for GUIs also apply to the Web, but there are differences to be aware of. For example, dense pages with lots of links take longer to scan for both GUI and Web; however, alignment may not be as critical for Web pages as previously thought. (Parush, Shwarts, Shtub, and Chandra, 2005)

In 2001, Bernard found that prior user experience with Web sites dictated where they expected common Web page elements to appear on a page. The same still holds true today: Users have clear expectations about where to find the things they want (search and back-to-home links) as well as the things they want to avoid (advertising). (Shaihk and Lenz, 2006)


Arditi, A. (2004). "Adjustable Typography: An Approach to Enhancing Low Vision Text Accessibility." Ergonomics, 47(5), pp. 469-482.

Baker, R.J. (2005). "Is Multiple-Column Online Text Better?" Usability News 7.2.

Bojko, A. (2006). Using Eye Tracking to Compare Web Page Designs: A Case Study, Journal of Usability Studies, Issue 3, Vol. 1, pp. 112-120.

Charness, N., Holley, P., Feddon, J., and Jastrzembski, T. (2004). "Light Pen Use and Practice Minimize Age and Hand Performance Differences in Pointing Tasks." Human Factors, 46(3), pp. 373-384.

Corritore, C.L., Kracher, B., and Wiedenbeck, S. (2003). "On-line Trust: Concepts, Evolving Themes." International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 58, pp. 737-758.

Dyson, M.C. (2004). "How Physical Text Layout Affects Reading from Screen." Behavior & Information Technology, 23(6), pp. 377-393.

Escalas, J.E. (2004). Narrative processing: Building consumer connections to brands. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 14 (1&2), 168-180.

Grobelny, J., Karwowski, W., and Drury, C. (2005). "Usability of Graphical Icons in the Design of Human-Computer Interfaces." International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 8(2), pp. 167-182.

Guan, Z., Lee, S., Cuddihy, E., Ramey, J. (2006). The Validity of the Stimulated Retrospective Think-Aloud Method as Measured by Eye Tracking, CHI 2006 Proceedings.

Hall, R., and Hanna, P. (2004). "The Impact of Web page Text-Background Color Combinations on Readability, Retention, Aesthetics and Behavioral Intention." Behavior & Information Technology, 23(3), pp. 183-195.

Harper, S., and Patel, N. (2005). "Gist Summaries for Visually Impaired Surfers." Assets '05, Baltimore, MD, USA, ACM 1-59593-159, pp. 90-97.

Ho, S.Y. and Tam, Y.K. (2005). An Empirical Examination of Web Personalization at Different Stages of Decision Making. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 19 (1), 95-112.

Hopp, P.J., Smith, C.A.P., Clegg, B.A., and Heggestad, E.D. (2005). "Interruption Management: The Use of Attention-Directing Tactile Cues." Human Factors, 47(1), pp. 1-11.

Kaplowitz, M.D., Hadlock, T.D., and Levine, R. (2004). "A Comparison of Web and Mail Survey Response Rates." Public Opinion Quarterly, 68(1), pp. 94-101.

Kalyuga, S., Chandler, P., and Sweller, J. (2004). "When Redundant On-Screen Text in Multimedia Technical Instruction Can Interfere with Learning." Human Factors, 46(3), pp. 567-581.

Kelkar, K., Khasawneh, M., Bowling, S., Gramopadhye, A., Melloy, B. and Grimes, L. (2005). The Added Usefulness of Process Measures Over Performance Measures in Interface Design. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 18(1), 1-18.

Kurniawan, S., and Zaphiri, P. (2005). "Research Derived Web Design Guidelines for Older People." Assets '05,Baltimore, Maryland, USA. ACM 1-59593-159, pp. 129-135.

Lane, D.M., Napier, A.H., and Peres, C.S., and Sandor, A. (2005). "Hidden Cost of GUI : Failure to Make Transition form Menu and Icon Toolbars." International Journal of Human Computer Interaction, 18(2), pp. 133-144.

Lee, J.D., and See, K.A. (2004). "Trust in Automation: Designing for Appropriate Reliance." Human Factors, 46(1), pp. 50-80.

Leonard, K.V., Jacko, J.A., and Pizzimenti, J.J. (2005). "An Exploratory Investigation of Handheld Computer Interaction for Older Adults with Visual Impairments." Proceedings of the 7th international ACM SIGACCESS conference on Computers and accessibility, Baltimore, Maryland, USA, ISBN:1-59593-159-7, pp. 12–19.

Mahmood, M.A., Bagchi, K., and Ford, T.C. (2004). "On-line Shopping Behavior: Cross-country Empirical Research." Ergonomics, 15 April, 47(5), pp. 469-482.

Mankoff, J., Fait, H., and Tran, T. (2005). "Is Your Web page Accessible? A Comparative Study of Methods for Assessing Web page Accessibility for the Blind." CHI 2005, Portland, Oregon, USA, pp. 41-50.

McCarley, J., Vais, M., Pringle, H., Kramer, A., Irwin, D., and Strayer, D. (2004). "Conversation Disrupts Change Detection in Complex Traffic Scenes." Human Factors, 46(3), pp. 424-436.

McCurdy, M., Connors, C., Pyrzak, G., Kanefsky, B., and Vera, A. (2006). Breaking the Fidelity Barrier, CHI 2006 Proceedings.

O'Hara, K. (2004). "Curb Cuts on the Information Highway: Older Adults and the Internet." Technical Communication Quarterly, 13(4), pp. 423-445.

Parush, A., Shwarts, Y., Shtub, A., and Chandra, M. J. (2005). "The Impact of Visual Layout Factors on Performance in Web Pages: A Cross- Language Study." Human Factors, 47(1), pp, 141-157.

Poole, A. (2004). "Which are More Legible: Serif or Sans Serif Typefaces".

Qiu, L. and Benbasat, I. (2005). Online Consumer Trust and Live Help Interfaces: The Effects of Text-to-Speech Voice and Three-Dimensional Avatars, International Journal of Human Computer Interaction, 19(1), 75-94.

Rayner, K., White, S., Johnson, R., Liversedge, S. (2006). Raeding Wrods with jumbled Lettres; There is a cost. Psychological Science 17(3), 192-193.

Resnick, M.L. and Sanchez, J. (2004). "Effects of Organizational Scheme and Labeling on Task Performance in Product-Centered Detail Web Sites." Human Factors, 46(1), pp. 104-117.

Russell, M. (2005)."Using Eye-Tracking Data to Understand First Impressions of a Website." Usability News 7.1.

Rust, R.T., Thompson, D.V., and Hamilton, R. (2006). Defeating Feature Fatigue. Harvard Business Review, Vol. 84, No. 2.

Shaikh, D.A. (2005). "The Effects of Line Length on Reading Online News." Usability News 7.2.

Shaikh, D.A., Chaparro, B.S., Nelson, T.W., and Joshi, A. (2005). "Metaphors and Website Design: A Cross-Cultural Case Study of the Stain Detective." Usability News 7.1.

Shaihk, A.D. and Lenz, K. (2006). Where's the Search? Re-examining User Expectations of Web Objects, Usability News, 8.1.

Sillence, E., Briggs, P., Fishwick, L. and Harris, P. (2004). Trust and Mistrust of Online Health Sites, Proceedings of CHI'2004, April 24-29 2004, Vienna, Austria, ACM Press, 663-670.

Slocum, J, and Thompson, S. (2005). "Smooth or Textured: Does Mouse Pad Surface Impact Performance?" Usability News 7.2.

Strayer, D., and Drew, F. (2004). "Profiles in Driver Distraction: Effects of Cell Phone Conversations on Younger and Older Drivers." Human Factors, 46(4), pp. 640-649.

Tohidi, M., Buxton, W., Baecker, R., and Sellen, A. (2006). Getting the Right Design and the Design Right: Testing Many Is Better Than One, CHI 2006 Proceedings.

Tsimhoni, O., Smith, D., and Green, P. (2004). "Address Entry While Driving: Speech Recognition Versus a Touch-Screen Keyboard." Human Factors, 46(4), pp. 600-610.

West, R. and Lehman, K. (2006). Automated Summative Usability Studies: An Empirical Evaluation, CHI 2006 Proceedings.

Wiklund, M., Thurott, C., and Dumas, J. (1992). Does the Fidelity of Software Prototypes Affect the Perception of Usability? Proceedings Human Factors Society 36th Annual Meeting, 399-403.

Wilson, T. (2004). Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious, Belknap Press; New Ed edition.

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

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Reader comments

Mike Hughes
IBM Internet Security Systems

Thanks for such a broad summary of key research – I'd say what a time saver, but that would imply that I would have done this on my own. Good job!


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