Usability in the home

29 Mar 2004 - 3:21pm
10 years ago
15 replies
964 reads
nyckiep at yahoo.com
2004

Is anyone out there working on usability in the home? I'm especially
interested in usable kitchens. I have yet to encounter one. I seem to
find a lot of work surrounding 2 dimensional interaction...what about 3
dimensional interaction with the environment? There is a lot of support
for office workspace ergonomics but what about domestic workspace
environments?

Nyckie

Comments

29 Mar 2004 - 3:41pm
Jim McCusker
2004

Nyckie Pineau wrote:

>Is anyone out there working on usability in the home? I'm especially
>interested in usable kitchens. I have yet to encounter one. I seem to
>find a lot of work surrounding 2 dimensional interaction...what about 3
>dimensional interaction with the environment? There is a lot of support
>for office workspace ergonomics but what about domestic workspace
>environments?
>
>
What I've encountered has been mostly rule of thumb stuff. For instance,
a big one is to have some sort of triangle of clearance between the
sink, stove, and fridge, because people will move between them
frequently. Our kitchen violates this because the stove is right next to
the fridge, but the fridge door opens *away* from the stove, effectively
blocking it. There's lots of other stuff wrong with the space though, so
we just suffer for now.

Other than that, I think the area is wide open for progress (i.e.,
nothing's really been done). One problem is that it would be very
difficult/expensive to set up a prototyping system. Although lots of
premade cabinets on casters and loose appliances, walls, and counters
can go a long way, but I sure plenty of kitchen designers think that
they can come up with something good on their own. I disagree with them,
but they often hold the keys to the kingdom.

The best you can get right now (as far as I know) is to visit a lot of
showrooms, and pretend to cook, trying to see what elements work and
what don't.

Jim

29 Mar 2004 - 3:50pm
Dave Malouf
2005

To add to this ... There are lots of standards in kitchens such as counter
top height and the like to be cautious of. I bet talking to a contractor or
appliance salesperson would be a great start.

-- dave

29 Mar 2004 - 4:13pm
Todd Warfel
2003

Funny you should ask - we're in the midst of remodeling our kitchen
right now.

I'd been informed of the "triangle rule," but decided that I'd take the
same approach to our kitchen that we do to or regular projects. After
all, our process should work, right? And besides, after doing a bit of
research over at Cornell on people's prep, cooking, and clean up
behaviors, we found three different patterns. So, we wanted to make
sure our new kitchen was a perfect fit for us, not the "average joe."

So, we started by doing some user/task analysis. I did a few
walk-throughs of how I normally prep food, cook, then clean up. And I
had my wife do the same. Then we started planning our kitchen layout
for things like worfklow efficiency, but also traffic flow - we
entertain from time to time and since the kitchen tends to be a regular
hang out area, we wanted to make sure that there was good traffic flow
in and out of the kitchen.

Now, we've gone through 9 iterations of designs for our kitchen and
actually have a prototype taped out on the floor of the new kitchen
design. We've spent the past couple of weeks "testing out the
prototype" to make sure that it will work. We've already made two
adjustments to the design based on the prototype.

On Mar 29, 2004, at 3:21 PM, Nyckie Pineau wrote:

> Is anyone out there working on usability in the home? I'm especially
> interested in usable kitchens. I have yet to encounter one. I seem to
> find a lot of work surrounding 2 dimensional interaction...what about 3
> dimensional interaction with the environment? There is a lot of support
> for office workspace ergonomics but what about domestic workspace
> environments?
>
> Nyckie

Cheers!

Todd R. Warfel
User Experience Architect
MessageFirst | making products easier to use
--------------------------------------
Contact Info
voice: (607) 339-9640
email: twarfel at messagefirst.com
web: www.messagefirst.com
aim: twarfel at mac.com
--------------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.
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29 Mar 2004 - 4:58pm
Jim Hoekema
2004

Be sure to check out the recent Swedish movie, "Kitchen Stories."

Jim Hoekema
845.568.3038 845.401.7466 mobile
Hoekema Design & Editorial
www.hoekema.com
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29 Mar 2004 - 8:15pm
Donna Maurer
2003

I haven't come across any research, but there should be some in the
ergonomics literature - I'll post anything I find in the next few weeks
(I'm studying physical erg this semester so am hanging around in the
journals).

It sure would be fun to research - go to someone's house, watch how they
use their kitchen and eat the results (after all, you have to experience
the whole thing ;). And seriously, it would be easy to research as it is
something that we all do. I've heard stories about apartments in Sydney
being built with tiny kitchens - little more than a microwave & fridge as
inner-city people are eating out so much. May be an urban myth though...

I like Todd's idea of taping a prototype to the floor & working with it -
beats standing in the kitchen shop pretending to cook!

Donna

At 06:21 AM 3/30/2004, you wrote:
>Is anyone out there working on usability in the home? I'm especially
>interested in usable kitchens. I have yet to encounter one. I seem to
>find a lot of work surrounding 2 dimensional interaction...what about 3
>dimensional interaction with the environment? There is a lot of support
>for office workspace ergonomics but what about domestic workspace
>environments?
>
>Nyckie

-------------------------------------------------
Donna Maurer
Usability Specialist
Step Two Designs Pty Ltd

Knowledge Management / Content Management / Intranets

http://www.steptwo.com.au/
donna at steptwo.com.au

29 Mar 2004 - 4:33pm
ben hyde
2004

--- Nyckie Pineau <nyckiep at yahoo.com> wrote: > Is
anyone out there working on usability in the
> home? I'm especially
> interested in usable kitchens. I have yet to
> encounter one.

I am surprised a bit by your statement about never
gaving encoutered one - kitchens being slightly more
adaptable than some things...

We just moved out fridge to a better position - and it
has changed the way the kitchen works - though this is
mainly to do with access (it was a bit too close to
the door before) rather then the triangle rule or it
being closer to the sink/cooker etc. - actually it is
further away now. I think a lot of this depends on
what you are measuring - satisfaction is more than
just speed/efficiency (sorry i realise i am -almost
certainly- preaching to the converted). The thing that
has improved our kitchen is light, space, and hiding
the damn great fridge in the corner :)

just my tuppence worth - for what it is

back to the stove for me

cheers, ben

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29 Mar 2004 - 5:37pm
Chris MacGregor
2004

All,

--- Nyckie Pineau <nyckiep at yahoo.com> wrote:
> Is anyone out there working on usability in the home? I'm especially
> interested in usable kitchens. I have yet to encounter one. I seem to
> find a lot of work surrounding 2 dimensional interaction...what about 3
> dimensional interaction with the environment? There is a lot of support
> for office workspace ergonomics but what about domestic workspace
> environments?

In the 1950s the Swedish government became involved with social engineering
as a means of improving the lives of their citizens. One of these studies
invloved trying to define the ultra-efficient standard kitchen, and is
remarkable similar to the type of informaiton that you are looking for. For
example, their study found that the average housewife walks the equivalent
number of miles as the distance between Stockholm and Congo, while preparing
her family meals each year.

The only reason that I've heard of this study is from the 2003 Bent Hamer
film Salmer fra kjokkenet (Kitchen Stories -
http://imdb.com/title/tt0323872/ ) in which a participant of the study and
his observer begin to interact. The film is funny and very well filmed and I
found it helpful to explain a small part about what I do to my mother. I
don't have any further info on the studies though.

CHris

=====
CHris MacGregor Interaction Designer
http://www.flazoom.com chris at macgregor.net
------------------------------------------------------------
Get my resume via e-mail! Send mail to resume at macgregor.net

30 Mar 2004 - 9:33am
Marc Rettig
2004

Hello,
The original question is about usability in the home, but I can't resist pointing out the
obvious: kitchen design is about much more than usability. I'm pretty sure that "usability"
would be a poor point of view to start from when trying to create a kitchen you love to be in.
(I know Nyckie's original post doesn't imply this, but it's a great Straw Man <smile>.) That
said, yes there are way too many pretty-to-look-at but hard-to-use kitchens.

Let's see. I better get some content into this post or it won't be worth sending. Two things:

It makes good sense to work on the usability of a kitchen. It's um, one category of values and
metrics one might use in measuring Goodness. But when defining the "core tasks" for a usability
approach, it would be important to focus on tasks beyond food preparation, cleanup, and
storage. Kitchen use includes lots of social tasks, for example. Hovering and socializing while
the meal is being cooked. Kids doing homework while Mom fixes dinner. And so on and on. A
kitchen can be great for cooking, but force others out into other parts of the house. In my
mind, such a kitchen fails an important set of "usability" metrics (the "user" being the
*household*, not just the cook).

A reference: Can I cite yet again Christopher Alexander's "A Pattern Language"? The Kitchen
patterns in there are lovely.
(http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0195019199/qid=1080656882/)

(By the bye, Alexander's new series of books is amazing. The first two of four are out. I'm
going through them very slowly, and very slowly they are making changes in the foundations of
my mind.)
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0972652914/qid=1080656882/
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0972652922

http://www.patternlanguage.com/

Cheers,
Marc Rettig

30 Mar 2004 - 11:07am
Susie Robson
2004

Ah, kitchen design.

First, as someone already suggested, a great start is the movie "Kitchen
Stories."

As a second job, I also dabble in real estate and have seen more than my
share of kitchens, though not in use. I hear people's comments as they go through
the kitchen but haven't documented these comments. However, the most common
comment is "you can tell that a man designed this kitchen." I'm not pretending
to know exactly what that means, just that i hear it a lot. I'm going to start
paying closer attention to comments in the future.

I have not seen one perfect kitchen yet but have seen interesting and
"usable" components of different kitchens. The best one was a separate water faucet
at the stove with a long flexible hose for filling large kettles. No more
filling the kettle or pot at the sink and schlepping it to the stove which usually
results in some spillage. I thought that showed that someone was really
thinking about how people use the stove at least. Don't we all at one time or
another have to fill a pot with water and then carry it to the stove?

Usually what I see are the same layouts, just different materials (cherry
cabinets, granite or marble countertops, stainless steel appliances this year).

In my own experience of remodeling my own kitchen, I was adamant that I
wanted a thin cabinet below the counter that had dividers in it. The builder
thought I was nuts and didn't understand but put it in anyway. Once he saw how I
used it, he thought it was interesting. It's basically a way to store cookie
sheets, pizza stones, that sort of thing vertically so I don't have to lift
everything off them to try to pull it out of a cupboard.

Oh, also another comment that I hear about older kitchens is that they aren't
big enough. Everyone seems to want very large kitchens. I suppose that is
based on what several people have already commenting on--the kitchen isn't just
for cooking anymore, it is the heart and hearth of the home, where everyone
gathers for conversation, homework, bill paying, whatever.

Have you looked into professional kitchens to see how those are set up? There
is a link to Julia Child's kitchen somewhere. She does what I also do--have
pot racks in the kitchen for easy reach, instead of stacking them inside
cupboards.

Just some thoughts...
Susie
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30 Mar 2004 - 11:43am
Olly Wright
2007

this idea of "usability in the home" goes back quite a ways -- consider
grete schütte-lihotzky, an architect and designer at the bauhaus, who
created the "frankfurt kitchen" -- based on a few things, namely
rationalism, the influence of the assembly line, women's emancipation
and the fact that women were less likely to have maids in the kitchen.

the wikipedia has a quick bio of her in english:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margarete_Sch%FCtte-Lihotzky

there's a lot of work that goes on about user-centered appliance design
-- whirlpool in europe did nice work in this area, certainly from
1996-2000 (in fact, today fabio sergio and i had a conversation about
some of the work he did there -- fabio is http://www.freegorifero.com,
if you don't know him).

i'm glad to hear that there's interest in this area. let's not forget
the historical precedents for it.

On Mar 30, 2004, at 4:33 PM, Marc Rettig wrote:

> Hello,
> The original question is about usability in the home, but I can't
> resist pointing out the
> obvious: kitchen design is about much more than usability. I'm pretty
> sure that "usability"
> would be a poor point of view to start from when trying to create a
> kitchen you love to be in.
> (I know Nyckie's original post doesn't imply this, but it's a great
> Straw Man <smile>.) That
> said, yes there are way too many pretty-to-look-at but hard-to-use
> kitchens.
>
> Let's see. I better get some content into this post or it won't be
> worth sending. Two things:
>
> It makes good sense to work on the usability of a kitchen. It's um,
> one category of values and
> metrics one might use in measuring Goodness. But when defining the
> "core tasks" for a usability
> approach, it would be important to focus on tasks beyond food
> preparation, cleanup, and
> storage. Kitchen use includes lots of social tasks, for example.
> Hovering and socializing while
> the meal is being cooked. Kids doing homework while Mom fixes dinner.
> And so on and on. A
> kitchen can be great for cooking, but force others out into other
> parts of the house. In my
> mind, such a kitchen fails an important set of "usability" metrics
> (the "user" being the
> *household*, not just the cook).
>
> A reference: Can I cite yet again Christopher Alexander's "A Pattern
> Language"? The Kitchen
> patterns in there are lovely.
> (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0195019199/qid=1080656882/)
>
> (By the bye, Alexander's new series of books is amazing. The first two
> of four are out. I'm
> going through them very slowly, and very slowly they are making
> changes in the foundations of
> my mind.)
> http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0972652914/qid=1080656882/
> http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0972652922
>
> http://www.patternlanguage.com/
>
> Cheers,
> Marc Rettig
>
> _______________________________________________
> Interaction Design Discussion List
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30 Mar 2004 - 12:34pm
Mitja Kostomaj
2004

mws> this idea of "usability in the home"
Hi all,

I've not long time I've conducted search for "Usability of home appliances".

One can find some interesting work in the area of Ambient Intelligence,
Intelligent Home etc.

My results:
Usability Design for the Home Media Station
http://www.dmst.aueb.gr/dds/pubs/conf/2003-HCI-HMS/html/CS03.pdf
Designing and Evaluating Supportive Technology for Homes
http://web.media.mit.edu/~intille/papers-files/IntilleLarson03.pdf
Interacting with Home and Home Appliances in a Hand-Held Terminal
http://www.nokia.com/library/files/docs/Interacting_with_Home_and_Home_appliances_in_a_Hand-Held_Terminal.pdf
Intelligent Home Appliances
http://www.cas.kth.se/~hic/hic-papers/isrr-01.pdf
The Home of the Future: An Ethnographic Study of New ...
http://www.crito.uci.edu/noah/paper/HOF-Ethno.pdf

Hope this helps

Best regards
Mitja Kostomaj

30 Mar 2004 - 1:59pm
Adlin, Tamara
2004

Hi all--
Just wanted to provide another perspective. I was one of the invited speakers chairs for UPA 2003, and the most popular talk was by a guy we invited named Dave Regel. He's a construction guy who now focuses completely on creating accessible homes for people with disabilities. What made his talk so cool was seeing how someone from a completely different industry (he had never heard of usability) was doing so much amazing usability work. He's had to work with manufacturers, construction people, architects, etc--and he's developed an amazing ability to dissect a household for accessibility problems--down to the issue of removing even the small bumps caused by door thresholds because any jostles can hurt some badly injured or wheelchair-bound people. I think it would be interesting to look at the work he's done and 'work backwards' to find usability ideas for regular homes.

He's put a bunch of stuff--including examples--on his site: http://www.drcinc.com/.

Tamara

30 Mar 2004 - 5:59pm
ben hyde
2004

Marc

Thanks for pointing out the new CA books - i wasn't
aware of them - could you summarise the best kitchen
patterns?

ben

--- Marc Rettig <mrettig at well.com> wrote: > >
> A reference: Can I cite yet again Christopher
> Alexander's "A Pattern Language"? The Kitchen
> patterns in there are lovely.
>
(http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0195019199/qid=1080656882/)
>
> (By the bye, Alexander's new series of books is
> amazing. The first two of four are out. I'm
> going through them very slowly, and very slowly they
> are making changes in the foundations of
> my mind.)
>
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0972652914/qid=1080656882/
>
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0972652922
>

___________________________________________________________
WIN FREE WORLDWIDE FLIGHTS - nominate a cafe in the Yahoo! Mail Internet Cafe Awards www.yahoo.co.uk/internetcafes

30 Mar 2004 - 6:19pm
Marc Rettig
2004

Could I summarize the best kitchen patterns? Sure (at the risk of some sort of copyright violation... hopefully this
will sell a couple of books for the patternlanguage folks, and they won't mind my posting extracts here.).

FARMHOUSE KITCHEN
The isolated kitchen, separate from the family and considered as an efficient but unpleasant factory for food is a
hangover from the days of servants; and from the more recent days when women willingly took over the servants' role.

Therefore:
Make the kitchen bigger than usual, big enough to include the "family room" space, and place it near the center of the
commons, not so far back in the house as an ordinary kitchen. Make it large enough to hold a good big table and chairs,
some soft and some hard, with counters and stove and sink around the edge of the room; and make it a bright and
comfortable room.

.....
Give the kitchen light on two sides.
When you place the kitchen counters later, make them really long and generous and toward the south to get the light.

.......
COOKING LAYOUT
. . . within the FARMHOUSE KITCHEN (139), or any other kind of kitchen, it is essential that the cooking area be
fashioned as a workshop for the preparation of food, and not as some kind of magazine kitchen with built-in counters
and decorator colors. This down-to-earth and working character of a good kitchen comes in large part from the
arrangement of the stove and food and counter.

Cooking is uncomfortable if the kitchen counter is too short and also if it is too long.

Therefore:
To strike the balance between the kitchen which is too small, and the kitchen which is too spread out, place the stove,
sink, and food storage and counter in such a way that:

1. No two of the four are more than 10 feet apart.

2. The total length of counter - excluding sink, stove, and refrigerator - is at least 12 feet.

3. No one section of the counter is less than 4 feet long.

There is no need for the counter to be continuous or entirely "built-in" as it is in many modem kitchens - it can even
consist of free-standing tables or counter tops. Only the three functional relationships described above are critical.

......
SUNNY COUNTER
Dark gloomy kitchens are depressing. The kitchen needs the sun more than the other rooms, not less.

Therefore:
Place the main part of the kitchen counter on the south and southeast side of the kitchen, with big windows around it,
so that sun can flood in and fill the kitchen with yellow light both morning and afternoon.

........
ALCOVES
No homogeneous room, of homogeneous height, can serve a group of people well. To give a group a chance to be together,
as a group, a room must also give them the chance to be alone, in one's and two's in the same space.

Therefore:
Make small places at the edge of any common room, usually no more than 6 feet wide and 3 to 6 feet deep and possibly
much smaller. These alcoves should be large enough for two people to sit, chat, or play and sometimes large enough to
contain a desk or a table.

........
EATING ATMOSPHERE
When people eat together, they may actually be together in spirit - or they may be far apart. Some rooms invite people
to eat leisurely and comfortably and feel together, while others force people to eat as quickly as possible so they can
go somewhere else to relax.

Therefore:
Put a heavy table in the center of the eating space - large enough for the whole family or the group of people using
it. Put a light over the table to create a pool of light over the group, and enclose the space with walls or with
contrasting darkness. Make the space large enough so the chairs can be pulled back comfortably, and provide shelves and
counters close at hand for things related to the meal.

........
OPEN SHELVES
Cupboards that are too deep waste valuable space, and it always seems that what you want is behind something else.

Therefore:
Cover the walls with narrow shelves of varying depth but always shallow enough so that things can be placed on them one
deep - nothing hiding behind anything else.

.......
WAIST-HIGH SHELF
In every house and every workplace there is a daily "traffic" of the objects which are handled most. Unless such things
are immediately at hand, the flow of life is awkward, full of mistakes; things are forgotten, misplaced.

Therefore:
Build waist-high shelves around at least a part of the main rooms where people live and work. Make them long, 9 to 15
inches deep, with shelves or cupboard underneath. Interrupt the shelf for seats, windows, and doors.

....
There are many more connecting patterns, but this gives a good taste.

Now, I'm off to cook supper <smile>.

- Marc

ben hyde wrote:

> Marc
>
> Thanks for pointing out the new CA books - i wasn't
> aware of them - could you summarise the best kitchen
> patterns?
>
> ben

31 Mar 2004 - 12:53pm
Christian Simon
2003

I had a similar reaction as Tamara when I read this post and I thought of
ergonomics for people with disabilities. Another place to look for further
information about designing and measuring ergonomic issues relative to
people with disabilities could be the Silicon Valley Ergonomics Institute
(SVEi).

Dr. Louis E. Freund put together this group (for lack of a better term) in
response to the various interrelated disciplines at San Jose State
University. There are strong departments in Engineering, Product Design and
Health/Physical Therapy at the university. While the focus of most of their
work is in industrial ergonomics, his office is a good place to start if you
are interested in ergonomics and disability.

Xtian

http://www-engr.sjsu.edu/~svei/

_________________________________________________________________
Christian Simon | www.christiansimon.com | San Francisco Bay Area

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