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Stress-Resistant Technology is Feasible - and Vital,

Added: (Wed May 08 2002)

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For: Weinschenk Consulting, PO Box 226, Edgar, WI 54426.
Contact: Susan Weinschenk, (800) 236-2599, susan@weinschenk.com.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Stress-Resistant Technology is Feasible - and Vital,
Says Usability Psychologist Susan Weinschenk;
Can Even Save Lives in High-Stakes Situations

Edgar, WI - More than a decade ago, having been warned that an attack
from Iran might be imminent, the U.S. Navy shot down an Iran Air
commercial jet, killing 290 thinking it was a military attack. "Everything the people on the ship needed to make the correct decision was on their computer screen, but in the stress of the situation, they didn't see it," said a Navy spokesman at the time. In daily civilian life, too, stress often leads to glitches and errors when using machines. But better design can reduce the number of life-threatening and nerve-jangling mistakes made under pressure, contends Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D., a psychologist who studies human
beings' interaction with technology.

"People under stress can miss information right on the screen in front
of them," explains Weinschenk, president of the Weinschenk Consulting
Group in Edgar, Wisconsin. "They tend to perform the same actions again
and again, even if they're not having the right effect. Under stress,
they become more irritable and have an altered perception of time, losing patience when something goes slowly. One of the hardest things to do under stress is to talk to someone in person or on the phone and use a computer at the same time."

Stress-resistant design can and should compensate for these reactions,
Weinschenk argues. Making important visual information larger and
putting less on the screen will improve decision-making in a crisis, or under stress.
Designers should also arrange elements so people see only what they need
to perform the task at hand, in the order in which they need them. And
if users can control the information, how it changes and the pace of
change, they'll panic less and find it easier to do what they need to do, she says.

"Remarkably, it's rare that engineers and designers study the situation
under which people will be using technology, then test and make changes
because of the findings," says Weinschenk, whose consulting firm
performs user testing of software and Web sites. "Whether you're the
military or manager of a fun Web site, you can make your interface and
policies easier for users who confront on-the-job stress. Most of all,
unless you don't mind a lot of mistakes, don't expect people to type and talk at the same time."

For organizations wishing to ease the burden on stressed-out Web users,
Weinschenk Consulting offers a free Online Usability checklist at
http://www.weinschenk.com/tools/online_checklist.asp.

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