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Oct. 28, 2022

E262 - Robotic boots are walking the walk

This week on the show, we talk about how the Stanford exoskeleton walks out into the real world. We also answer some questions from the community about some of the most important qualities a UX/HF researcher must have, how to improve skills in a Junior role, and we assess how UX/HF leadership compares to other departments.

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Welcome to Human Factors Cast, your weekly podcast for human factors psychology and design.

Hello everybody. Welcome back to another episode of Human Factors Cast. This is episode 262. We're recording this live on October 27, 2022. I'm your host, Nick Rome. I am joined today not only by Mr. Barry Kirby hello. Hi, Barry. But I'm also joined today by Heidi Mirzad. Hi. Hey Heidi. Welcome to the show. We got a great show for you all tonight. We're going to be talking about the Stanford Exoskeleton and how it's walking the walk now out in the real world. We're also going to answer some questions in the community about the most important qualities of a UX HF researcher that they must have, how to improve skills in a junior role. And we'll assess how UX and HF leadership compares to other departments. But first, we got some programming notes for you if you haven't already caught up with some of our HFES coverage. We'll have a roundup out soon, but there is a ton of stuff for you to go out and experience. We did that ten hour livestream directly from the event with something like eleven interviews or something like that. We packaged those up and sent them out into your podcast feed for your consumption. They're also available on YouTube, so please go check those out. We spend a lot of time sitting down with those folks and they had some really awesome things to say and some of them are still sticking with me. Barry, I got to know what's going on over at twelve two. So on twelve two, we still got the Proactive Learning, which is an interview with Dr. Mass in Nazareth, which is looking at new and interesting ways to define safety and understand what safety looks like in our workplace. Fundamentally, it's about how do we learn from normal work rather than learning from accidents and incidents, because by the time it's happened, it's too late. We want to nail it beforehand. So that's live now and recommend that you go and have a listen. Yes, I will for sure listen to that. But we know why you're all here. You are here for the news, so let's go ahead and get into it.

That's right. This is the part of the show all about Human Factors news. This is the story part where we read the story. Barry, what is the story this week? I love the professionalism of the intro. So this week we talked about Stanford Exoskeleton walks out into the real world. So for years, the Stanford Biomechatronics Laboratory I told you there'd be words tonight. I love the professionalism of the newsread. Barry. Oh dear. So they captured imaginations with the Exoskeleton Emulators, which have been lab based robotic devices that help wearers walk and run faster with less effort. Now these researchers will turn their heads out into the wild with the first untethered Exoskeleton. The robotic boot has a motor that works with the calf muscles to give the wear an extra push with every step. But unlike other Exoskeletons out there, this push is personalized thanks to a machine learning based model that was trained through years of work using Emulators. The Exoskeleton makes working easier and can increase speeds by applying torque at the ankle replacing some of the functions of the calf muscle. As a user takes a step just before their toes are about to leave the ground the device helps them push off. When a person is first using Exoskeleton it provides slightly different patterns of assistance each time the person walks. By measuring the resulting motion, the machine learning model determines how to better assist the person the next time they walk. It only takes about an hour of walking with the Exoskeleton to customize it to a new user. Optimized assistance allows people to walk 9% faster with 17% less energy Expended per distance traveled compared to walking in normal shoes. The ultimate aim of this is to help people with mobility impairments particularly older people move throughout the world as they like. With this latest breakthrough, the research team believes the technology is ready for commercialization in the coming few years. So Heidi, are you ready to step out with robotic boots? What do you think? I found it very interesting that they looked at this from a perspective of doing it in day to day, not just in a sense of aiming it only at people who had injuries or whatnot. So the fact that they kind of established that that can help anybody and everybody, especially the elderly I thought that was very interesting. I personally always get very concerned about the socioeconomic background of the situation. Right, so this sounds wonderful but it'll be a decade before this become something that people can afford or people will have access to. So it's something for me still kind of futuristic and I would be concerned that only the people who have the ability financially or so economically will have access to this and it will kind of divide the elderly or the disabled in the categories of being able to take advantage of something like that and then not take advantage of it. So that's kind of what my initial reaction was like oh well, only people who have money will be able to afford this. Yeah, I think you're right. We could talk a little bit more about those impacts a little bit later on. I think for me my gut reaction is more of like a little boy in the candy shop give me one of these, I want one of these. I want pair Nike puts out there like their midnight drops or whatever. I want this on midnight drop. Give me one of these. I think it's cool and I think there's a lot of really practical application and I hope that there's a way that this can get sort of to the people that need it in a way. But then there's also other impacts that I think this has for other industries and domains that I would really love to jump into. But Barry, what are your initial thoughts on this? So when you jump into that, are you going to jump into them with your new boot on? Sorry, I'm kind of similar. Yeah. The Gadget geek inside me really wants them because the village where I live is on the side of a hill, and I'd love to be able to walk up the hill as much as down it, and these would just help me to do that. But I do worry about some of these things. We've kind of talked about this in the past about what happens when you don't use it. So if you're using something like this all of the time, then when you take them off and you don't use them anymore are we over assisting? Is it just going to be so ubiquitous? Actually, if you suddenly it's a bit like when you come back from space, if you come back from space, see how linked space into it, how bringing into that. When you come back from space and you suddenly you get affected by Earth's gravity, you can't walk anywhere. You have to almost like retrain to do that. You're going to have a similar thing with this. So I think we'll probably dig into this a little bit later on as well. But fundamentally, yes, please. In fact, I can have two pets for Christmas. That'd be awesome. So there's a lot of discussion points, a lot of ways that we can go with this discussion. Heidi, you're the guest here this week. I want to throw it to you. What part of this do you want to talk about first? I like what Barry just brought up because that's something I didn't even think about because my first reaction was so focused on new technology. Right. Stanford, there's a lot of funding that goes into it. It's very advanced, very innovative, can help a lot of people. Like, yes, please. For the disabled people and the elderly. I just thought of the elderly. Like if my grandma would have been able to have that in her later years, like, she could have been walking around outside. Because you love that, you know, going up and down the stairs and all this. Will this eliminate the wheelchair aspect in some instances, right. Will people just be able to walk and have the energy for it? But I didn't even think about that, and that actually made me more concerned. Like, will the overuse end up going as being a disadvantage because you're not using your muscles muscle atrophy. Right? No. So is there a component of where they're looking into it where they will stimulate the muscle? Because they do speak about these being customized in a sense, because they have these learning software, the learning software in it. So will it then also stimulate your muscles, like almost like what are those called? The EMS. Is it EMF the new technology? Yeah. Will it give you a little bit of a shock every once in a while to keep the muscle going?

It's interesting because again, when you read the article, it does not say that it's trying to extend, I guess, the muscle usage. So I guess you are still using the muscles and it's seen as an is it an extra or are you doing less? And I guess that's the balance of it from a Usability perspective I don't necessarily understand because I could see if you're trying to improve performance, then you'll be extending what you could do. So if you're using 70% less energy for the distance, that means you can walk for 70% further. So you're extending your performance. But me being me, and I'm fundamentally a lazy person, I'd be going, great, I've saved nearly 20% of my energy and I can get back on the sofa really quickly. I actually wrote that down on the show notes. It's like what happens, what's available to everybody? How does this not make us lazy as a society? It's right down there, organizational, social. Thank you for bringing that point up, because really to me, that was a big question for me is like, okay, well, if everybody has this, some utopia down the line, everybody has this technology and we're using it for different ways, what are we spending that energy on? And how do we redirect our physical energy into something else? Like, yes, like you and I, Barry, would love to lazy and would like to see that 20 extra percent. But does that mean that we can go 20% further on the same amount of energy that we're expending now because of this technology? Does that mean that, yes, we are saving, but does that mean that overall, the whole of it, does that mean that we can do more? And I think one sort of big area in which I have a ton of notes, Barry, that you said was a ton of notes, but really I just listed a bunch of jobs here and I think this is a good tie into that. So I'm going to bring it up. But like, what benefits could this technology have for other aspects of our day to day? Like work? This is built for people with mobility limitations, but what could this do for other industries? Right? Think about other roles that are more mobile. Things like tour guides, dog walkers, personal trainers. Would you be able to train more individuals using less energy? Think about construction, landscaping, doctors and nurses who are walking all over a facility all day. You got farmers, any delivery person, park rangers, post persons, firefighters. And there's a bigger question of what would this do for standing fatigue? Would this reduce any standing fatigue or would it increase it because you have these additional things on your feet that are additional weights and sort of operating differently than you normally would standing. But for those like. Teachers. Retail workers who are walking. But if they are standing at like I'm thinking like cashiers. Right. Or chefs and cooks were in a limited space or still moving around. What would it do for them if they're standing? Right, so these are some questions that I have and we can get to military applications in a minute, but those are the whole separate set of jobs where this technology might actually help with some of that stuff. So I don't know. I want to get your thoughts on that, both of you. Heidi, I'll start with you. Well, you just brought something up that made me think about the fact that these are they heavy? How heavy are they? Right? And I'm sure that these engineers have done their math and I'm not going to do the math of an engineer who worked on this for ten years or whatnot, but in my head I'm going, okay, so it saves energy, but are you also using more energy because you have these weights? Right? So then is it coming? How much is it evening out? How much is it increasing over you having to have that weight on you? And if that is a factor, then how really is it going to be useful for elderly people who barely can lift the chair from the kitchen, like move the chair back from the kitchen table? So that would be a question I have in my head, like, how heavy would this be? And then the thing that catches me on it also now is that we think about it when we look at bigger applications, right? What is the troubleshooting factor? Right? So elderly people, right, what are they going to do if it malfunctions or if there's any issues with it, right? And they're out and about, like, what are they going to do, call a number? Or like, how's this, how is this really going to work in a applied like, in the real world? And so I don't know. I don't know. If you think about that a little bit. It's a really good point because there's an element of the basic usability of this that I wonder about that if you put it on like a normal boot. I'm assuming. Is it slide on and then is it cushioned inside so it snugly fits your foot and does your foot go into like a normal boot or is it slightly just because the way that they do the angles I feel like you might be slightly toe down in it to get the right level of progression. But I'm assuming here. I haven't actually seen the pictures. But fundamentally you need to take it on and off because of the nature of what it is. I'm guessing that your feet are slightly further apart than they usually are because you got the mechanics of the inside of the boot. The mechanics of that will make your stands go wider. And so if you're walking with it, is there a chance of you actually clashing the two boots together? And so therefore, how rugged is that element of it and just going off? What you said, Heidi, what happens when you went out of power, when you went out of batteries? Not that that's on my mind a lot now with you driving electric car, but the whole piece around. Imagine being halfway up a hill as an elderly person. The batteries run out and then you're stuck to the side of the hill because you can't move because they're too heavy. All you've got is maybe a number to ring and hopefully somebody can pick you up. And what do they do? Cartoon to the back of a trailer or something and take you home. I'll bring an emergency battery with you and jump start you. Sorry, go ahead. I was going to say, I just think that you're right in terms of thinking about the whole use almost all the edge cases of this is the principle of it sounds really, really good, but there's a lot of stuff around it that I think to make it a truly usable product, probably needs to be thought about a lot more. Yeah, I think the article mentioned something about it being ready for the world or something and ready for the market. I don't want to miss quote, but

this is a different angle. But I think about these things now a lot, having my own company and looking at it from business aspect sides. Right. I do wonder, can somebody in the Chat just brought up they could be assisted in labor warehouse construction and things like that. And I do wonder if the good old, you know, greed and capitalism kicks in and then people are outfitted with these to produce more and quicker. Right. Quicker, more. Are they going to work now longer hours? Because quote, unquote, this saves you energy. So I have started to be a little bit more. I've noticed over the last years I had to, but now I start to have these perspectives from a true business strategy or business approach, and that would concern me a lot. Yeah. And thanks to Vanessa for bringing up the labor warehouse construction talks in reference to alien in the Chat. I really appreciate the Alien reference there. I do kind of want to have anything for that. I want to expand on what you were saying there, Barry, about sort of the adaptability and really how you're basically putting this on and the usability of everything. Right. So, I mean, you bring up in the show notes here some aspects of what happens if you sort of encounter water or mud. And I'm assuming ruggedness is terrain. How do you interact with terrain in a way that is it a flat 17% increase when you're on a mountainous terrain versus a flat City Street there's those questions. But I think one thing that is interesting to me is that this system is using artificial intelligence to accommodate for individual differences. And I'm wondering if sort of the next step of their research is to figure out how AI can accommodate for certain use cases. What happens if you are in the rain or if it is wet and there's less traction? What happens if you are on an uneven terrain? Does it sort of do some micro adjustments on your feet to make sure that you don't trip and fall as well? Is that an additional feature that you can do that maybe doesn't save you energy efficiency, but also just makes it safer so that you can traverse? And this is a great opportunity to bring up one of these social thoughts by John Barry. Do you want to read this one? Yeah. So John commented on the LinkedIn post that we put out there earlier on today and so anybody else who's listening when we try and put the social thoughts up earlier in the week. So if you've got your thoughts, get your thoughts in and comment on them and then we'll be able to read them out just like we're going to read John's out now. And John said, I'd have thought the biggest issue is going to be enabling the boots to learn the individual anatomical features of the wearer so they can complement, augment the natural gait rather than work against it, but also add strength where the wearer has natural weakness. He goes on to say he broke his ankle like uni and so it has a weakness to over pronation. So support there is good, but not being overly restrictive to limit mobility. So thanks for your thought there, John. Yeah, I just thought John thought kind of fit in nicely with that AI actually using or adapting to the individual. The use case side of it is interesting as well. I had another point on those, but I think I put them somewhere else. I don't know who wants to talk about what next. So just to finish off that Usability piece, if you go to the article and look at it, it's quite obvious that it's still, I would say strong prototype phase. There's wires everywhere, there's motors that are open and a lot of the moving parts are out there, but you can easily see how a lot of that would be encompassed in decent waterproofing. More of a boot like structure. I can almost see almost like a space boot type of thing. But the bit that amused me when you were sort of suggesting the different type of modes you could have and combining that with hidden comments around how does capitalism work from this. You could almost see the Tesla approach to this booth that you don't have a normal walking function. But then if you want to go uphill. You can get the uphill upgrade just by subscribing to night to nine a month. If you want to be able to go downhill as well, worth an extra 399 a month. And if you want to, if you want to start walking faster or whatever, then you have different subscription packages depending on what it is you're doing. Which on the one hand. Yes. I am slightly mocking the way that some has been done. But actually from a production perspective. If you can get it to do one thing. If you can get one product and then be able to sell it in different areas. Different for different roles so we're going to talk about the military in a bit. But then we've talked about all these other jobs. They all have slightly different needs. And if the software can help tailor the boot to the application, then that would be quite a nifty thing, that would be really quite cool. But it's how you then do that and how you cross that and how you make sure that that works. But from a Usability perspective, from a design perspective, I'm really intrigued to see where this goes and how fundamentally how they have hide the wires in a way that is a nice comfortable boot that you would want to wear. Because as we said, if you're going to wear do it for longer, you're exerting. So your feet are going to sweat, they're going to rub, all these sort of things. So how do we make sure that the foot is well looked after, that what sort of socks would you want to be wearing with this? All the basic stuff, how do you make sure you don't get sores and blisters and things like that? And then fundamentally, how do we look after it, how do we from an engineering perspective, how do you wash it, how do you take out the inserts, et cetera, how does that work? Your thoughts, where do you want to go next on taking this thing about? Well, now that you brought that up, that makes me wonder also with somebody brought up, how long can they be used, right? What is the lifecycle of them? So that actually made me think about something else in the medical human factors engineering, we have to consider what is the upkeep, what is the maintenance, right? So, okay, the maintenance on the product itself, right? But does this require that you check in with a doctor who has specialized in this, right, that they can do assessments on you or that they can check that it's not disadvantaging your body or setting it back or like we spoke earlier about muscle atrophy and things like that. So would it then come with something like that? And you jokingly said about if you want to walk uphill it's extra a year or whatever, but how is that incorporated into the product? And is that then taking care of your insurance? And so there's a lot of financial questions I have in my head for that to be something that can really be a real world product and not something that you hear of. And when you read the miracle stories of a person was able to walk again after four years or something, and because of this access they had to this facility, nobody has ever heard of because it's only for rich people. And so that made me think of that right now. So I don't know what your thoughts are on that, but that's a huge financial aspect. Yeah, I mean, insurance in the US is a whole separate conversation. Barry UK healthcare gap. Yeah. Congratulations. But will that type of thing, right, will insurance or healthcare just in general, if we start thinking about the healthcare approach, will that make this available to most folks who need it? Right, depending on cost, depending on impact to the end user, which, again, elderly mobility impaired for at least this first go around, right? But then the commercial applications would be like, how do we use this to get our workers to work for two extra hours since it's 20% better, right? I think this is a good time to talk about the military applications because we're talking about government and we're talking about insurance and making it available to everybody. I suspect the military might be one of the first applications that is not meant for those who are mobility impaired or elderly. Right. Because I think this would assist with being able to transport loads on foot for longer durations. If sort of less energy was spent on walking, you could basically transport that stuff longer, combine that stuff with other exoskeleton technology we've actually talked about in the show before. I don't have a number for you, but we've definitely talked about reducing loads for military personnel, carrying things on the show and reducing that load, basically with the walking technology you have basically human pac nules. And that is incredibly valuable to military applications to be able to transport something without technology involved for a variety of reasons. But those are some immediate applications that I can think of. Again, these roles where you are moving a lot, walking a lot, I think are going to be some of the first real world applications outside of those sort of populations that we talked about, elderly, mobility impaired, where we're going to see this. I do want to shout out just a couple of folks in the chat. Thank you, Alex and Vanessa, for just chatting up on YouTube. I really appreciate all the comments. I don't know if we'll get to them all, but there's some really good points in there. And if you're listening to this later, please try to join us on our live shows because there's a lot of really great discussion that you're all missing out on. Yeah, I don't know, military applications. Yeah, when you look at the actual value to be able to turn around, so the basic fighting. Part of the military is the infantry is the infrastructure with their weapon and their webbing and being able to go and infiltrate or just march into territory. If you can boost their capability effectively by 20%, which is what we're talking about, that's significant and that's a game changer. Now, there is an element which we've already touched upon there, that if you're going to do that sort of work with the military, they don't tend to go walking around nice streets and things like that. They tend to go in hot places, cold places, sandy places, muddy places and things like that. So going back to that Usability bit, they would have to be ruggedized really well. But if providing you got that right, then that would be really neat. The other application which I thought was interesting would be shock absorption. So if you've got paratroopers, so basically anybody who is jumping down from a height almost be able to work the other way and actually absorb shock through the use of mechanics. So it's almost a reverse of what it's actually doing the moment. That also would save some damage there so that I can see lots of application from the military side. A question I'd like to throw open to the both of you though, is it's slightly amusing, but also not if they've got the this ability to do things and then be an IoT control of the computer control. What happens if you get hacked

from a cyber perspective, if somebody hacked the boots so then they can send you walking off somewhere that you don't want to. And I don't know if either of you have seen the animated film that was done in the UK called The Wrong Trousers. If not, I totally recommend you go and look it up and go and watch it. But this is pretty much what I'm talking about. So you'll have control of your feed? Well, actually anything that is done by software can be interfered with if it works over any kind of truth transmission frequency. Right, I was going to bring up that as my next point. Interference. Right. So not just think about hacking, think about something that every time anything with power software or wires, anything comes up in the medical human factors community, we automatically have to think about, well then people with heart implants can't use it. People with implants in general, what is the interference with the implants? Right, so the thing that scares me there the most is that we already have that stage right now where most people with such things like heart implants can't do a lot of things when it comes to very advanced medical technology. And that would scare me the most that now you're excluding a huge population that actually would have one of the biggest advantages of energy saving kind of mobility tool. I don't know what your thoughts were on that, Nick. Yeah, I think there's a couple of. Things here. And I guess the first thing I'd like to talk about is maybe these things getting hacked, right? So thinking about that, I don't know if we could have the wrong trouser situation where they're actually controlling our bodies, but they could potentially do something much more harmful if this AI is in fact interfacing with your muscles, they could actually program it to do some damage to those muscles as you're walking, which could be much more damaging to people in the long run. Right? So that's kind of the first concern, just generally. I guess the last point that I'll kind of bring up and then we'll get out of here is this opens up a whole discussion for what this might do for government regulation, what types of communications are being sent to these devices, what kind of the ways in which they interface with our bodies, how can we protect that? And there are some who don't like government overreach, but I think this is one instance where the safety aspect really would be a critical component, especially if you have somebody talking with the government about human factor's role in safety of medical devices or prosthetic devices or exoskeletons, whatever you want to classify this as. I think there's an important discussion to be had of what things can a government, not just the US. Government, what things can a government do to help ensure that people are least likely to get injured or hurt by using this technology? So that's kind of what I will leave it at. We're short on time, so let's just move on to the next part of the show. I just want to thank all of our patients this week for selecting a topic. And thank you to our friends over at Stanford University for our news story this week. If you want to follow along, we do post the links to all the original articles on our weekly roundups and our blog. You can also join us in our discord for more discussion on these stories and more. Again, I just want to thank one more time, everybody in the YouTube channel for talking today. That's awesome. If you want to continue this discussion, let's move it to the discord. We're going to take a quick break and we'll be back to see what's going on in the Human Factors community right after this. Yes, huge. Thank you, as always to our patrons. We especially want to thank our honorary Human Factors cast staff patron Michelle Tripp. Patrons like you truly keep the show running, lights on, all that stuff. We have a whole lab that is powered by your contributions to the show, and we seriously couldn't do any of this without you. Literally everything that you give to the show, we give back into the show. We don't pocket anything. Barry has bought a new electric car with all of your donations, and that is unfortunate that he is using it on the electric car. But no, seriously, I want to talk quickly about Human Factors minute. So if you missed our announcement from HF Es, we're making this public. So there's a surprise announcement that we announced at HFS. We're making it free starting in February of next year. So we'll have ten episodes, probably a little bit more than actually available at launch because we've had some free episodes that we'll put up there as well. The public feed of Human Factors Minute will air on the 10th, 20th, and the last day of the month each month. If you're doing the math, that means that our patreon patrons will still receive one extra minute a month, which will then result in sort of a higher value proposition for our patrons over time. But this really does sort of get some of the hard work of the lab out there into the public domain, something that we are very excited about and can't wait to share with you all. And just for everyone's awareness, we have plans up to 2036 for the public feed. So you're going to be listening to us for quite a long time. What is that, 14 years from now? That's planning and something else, isn't it? That is a very long time. All right. What's that? A commitment. That is commitment. Yeah. I mean, look at us. Look at us. We just got a bunch of stuff lined up for you all. How nice are we? All right, well, why don't we go ahead and get into this next part of the show we like to call this Came From. It came from. That's right. This is the part of the show all about. It came from. I'm doing the wrong intro. Anyway, this is where we search all over the Internet to bring new topics the community is talking about. You find these answers useful or helpful wherever you're at. Give us a like or leave us a comment wherever you're listening. Those on YouTube. Do it. We could use those likes. That's really helpful. The first one up here is by on the UX research. Subreddit this by user crazy eight they write, what are some of the most important qualities a UX researcher or I'm just going to expand this into Human Factors practitioner must have, and what are qualities that are often overlooked or ignored by employers or not specified in job offers? Heidi, I'm curious on your thoughts of this one. What qualities are you looking for in UX and HF roles that are often overlooked? So this is actually something funny. As I'm trying to grow my company, I've started to realize that I myself am making the mistakes that I would advise somebody now not to do. But because you get so focused on the human Factors research experience, the human factors engineering experience, have they had exposure to UX research? Have they done studies? Have they moderated? Have they done data analysis? All that stuff is great. And UX design, all that stuff is great. But then when they come into an office setting, let's say consulting agency or a corporate world, right? The thing that we sometimes forget is that these companies and the way we work, we haven't evolved into like all these amazing new softwares, right? So we still work with Microsoft Office. Your documents are still written in Word, you still do most of your data analysis in Excel and your presentations are done in PowerPoint and you have to send PDF files. And like, it gets into this world of where I get it as a Gen X, I get it. Like it's not interesting for the new generations, but those things actually really affect your quality of work and your ability to be able to contribute. And so that was the first thing I had in my head. I was like, that one I would like to put on the list. And as well as time management, have they led projects? Have they led successful outcomes and things like that, because that all goes to logistical and time management. People skills, were they able to finish the project on time? So as far as me here, sitting as an employer go, I want to see those skills because the other stuff, I can almost guarantee that if you have a good resume, you're going to bring those skills, right? So that would be my number one. I don't know. Barry, what are your thoughts as someone who is a business owner too? I think the things you brought up, it's non technical skills, isn't it? Non HF technical skills that are key. But for me, sense of humor, there's going to be days when it doesn't go right. The stakeholders aren't working in the way that you want them to. The project manager is giving you grief, all that sort of stuff. And if you can't laugh at the end of it, even cynically, then you need that sense of humor, I think a big one, and I still struggle with this when I'm recruiting, is empathy. Are you able to put yourself in the position of your user not necessarily knowing everything about their job? Because that's not what we do, but at least be able to gather an understanding of their frustration and see where they're coming from. So use an empathy and just go, I guess highlight what you've already mentioned around office skills. If you can't use PowerPoint and Excel to do the entire project, your UX design and all your assessment, then quite frankly, don't bother walking into my office. Nick, what about you? What's your thought? Oh, man. Well, I think mine is a little bit different from either of yours. I think for me, it's the ability to adapt and respond to unforeseen circumstances. Because as you come into a project, as you come into a role or I guess a research threat or whatever you want to call it, nothing is going to go exactly the way that you plan it ever. You can plan it all you like. You can plan for contingencies. And that's kind of another point that I'd like to make is the ability to plan for contingencies and expect sort of the unexpected in a way that allows you to adapt. I don't want to say agile with agility, adapted with agility, but having that skill is something that I don't think can be taught very easily. Whereas I'm going to do a slight disagreement with both of you. I think Microsoft Office and other programs can be taught. It gives it an advantage, sure. But I think that hard skill of being able to adapt is something that is a little bit harder to teach. So that's my kind of $0.02 on that. Alright, let's get into this next one here. This one is by on the User Experience subreddit by Prometheus Dev they write how to improve my skills most effectively as a junior designer. But I'm going to say this junior role. They write like many others, I changed my field to UX pretty late. I focused really hard on building a strong portfolio which paid off. My problem is that I feel that since I came into this field late compared to my peers, I'll need to catch up. I know some skills will come through my job naturally, but some people can learn in one year at a job, while others learned in four. Want to be able to control my learning path and not rely on random chance. What is your advice on how to use my time efficiently as possible to accelerate my skills learning and fast track my progress? Heidi, what are your thoughts on fast tracking progress in a junior role? First, I want to be empathetic to this person. Hi, you're 27, you're not too late in the game. People change careers later all the time and you're certainly not late in the game. So I would first take those fears away. I hope you can get past that a little bit. And then when it comes to fast tracking, I think the problem with that is there's a lot of things you can do to increase your skill level, right. Which already mentioned it like courses, trainings and all those things. I think it's also important to consider you having patience in seeking out mentors. So I think going at it alone is a little not risky. I'm missing the word for it, but it's a little like why should you if you can seek a mentor? Right? So I would join a professional society or something or a group and find a mentor who is kind of in your boat. Like they kind of went your way and they maybe crossed over also later. And then find somebody who can really kind of guide you through the steps. Right. Because first and foremost, you're going to have to bring patient. Okay. Fast tracking isn't there is no fast track. There is no elevator jumping levels or floors. It just isn't a thing. So I would be patient with myself. And then if you get lucky, you get a great mentor and he or she mentioned what was it compared to their peers? But I'm a little worried that comparing yourself to others is going to impede what you need to focus on personally, like, really on yourself. Right. Because skills are skill sets for everybody, are unique. Right. And so I would really focus more on that and then what some people learn in one year that others in four I can only be very empathetic and relate to myself. I had an amazing situation where I had nine or ten I think it was nine or ten months with the most amazing manager coming right out of grad school. And I learned more in that year with that company and those ten months with that specific manager than anybody I ever encountered in their first two, three, four years. So I would also consider holding yourself a little bit to a level of like, okay, maybe not every opportunity I grasp or tackle is going to work out. There's a lot of failure in trying to get to success. Yeah, there really is. I think from my perspective, I'm liking this format of, like, somebody else talking as well, because I've written a whole bunch of other notes as what you said is in spite of the stuff. So I guess my first thing is, what do you think you're fast tracking to? So where is it you're trying to get to? Where do you think you're actually going? Because you're right. I get that feeling of starting later in the career. I think I'm on my third career. I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. And at 27, you've got loads of time to do stuff, but you've got to work out just through the writing. You think you've got to get somewhere, but you need to work out what that gets somewhere is. In order to help you do that, you need experience. And the only real way you get experience is by understanding what a good experience and a bad experience is. And you don't really know them in this job because most of them I would like to think that 90% of the work I've done, even though it's maybe been in a variety of fields and all that sort of stuff, they've all been good. They've all been good because I've been different. But I have had a bunch of jobs that I've just been or roles, or even just like single projects that have been like, oh, I don't like that, or a role within a project that was like, oh, that just didn't work for me. But you don't know it until you've done it. So say yes a lot. If people ask you to do stuff and whatever, say yes. And then if you don't like it, then you just don't say yes again to that particular one, that's fine. But now you know from your own, don't go what other people say. As Heidi says, what works for different people, what makes different people tick is different. It's individual. So just because you're a good friend of yours or a colleague might hate doing literature reviews, you might love them, you might like doing that type of research. You might be the one who likes to go into do the Zoom interviews or something like that. Work out what your skill set is and then fundamentally it is nothing else but just doing the job. Practice, do the job. Learn critical self review, learn what you think, be able to look at what you produced and review it yourself and think, actually, that's good, that's bad, that's indifferent, but other people do it aside. He says you can get a mentor, then get them to help engage in constructive criticism, because that's the way of getting faster to something, is to be able to be honest with yourself and say, yes, that's good, that's indifferent, and then do it again and again and again until you're happy with it and do it that way. And then hopefully, if you know where you're going to and you do this, then you'll get to where you want to be. Nick, what do you think? I see a couple options here. The first thing I mentioned is sort of if you are looking to learn more things about what you can do or I guess enhance your skill set, many employers will sort of pay for continuing education or training to sort of augment your skill set and ability to basically benefit the company, right? If you can learn something, bring it back to the company, you are then bringing in new knowledge that they didn't have before, new tools that they didn't have before you. As a person, I definitely try to leverage that. Professional communities, as Heidi said, trying to get those mentors. I think that can also come from being a part of a professional society that you can also get your employer most times to pay for outside of that, like Barry was mentioning, with the critical self review, understanding where your sort of deficiencies are and trying to, I guess, patch those deficiencies with a passion project that you have on the side away from work. And I think I'm speaking for all of us here, I think we all have our own passion projects. Sometimes it is work, but sometimes it's podcasts or something on the side, right? Something that we can work on, but it's also helping us develop skills that we didn't necessarily have before we started those passion projects. Now I think you can perfect those skills over time. Certainly when this podcast launched, it wasn't it wasn't too great, and I'm the first one to admit that. Go back and listen to our first couple of episodes and yikes. But today I'm actually really proud of this thing that we've built. And I've learned so many skills not just with video audio production, but with like project management and stuff through the lab that I wouldn't have had otherwise. So build a passion project and use that passion project to sort of augment your skill set with something through that thing that you can call your own at the end of the day and point to that's. My advice. We got one more here. This one's also from the user experience subreddit. This is by Giovana PX. All right, I messed up that name, but here we go. Does UX Leadership suck compared to other departments? Okay, I'm going to edit this a little bit, but sometimes they write. Sometimes I get the feeling that those in leadership are more micromanagers than other folks. I'm talking about from senior managers to VP level. The only thing I found worse was working with marketing folks. Heidi, what's your experience working with these human factors, those inhuman factors? Are UX leadership roles. Do they suck? Well, as one myself, I don't know if I suck, I would say okay, if I'm very honest with it, I think there is a point to it. I think I know where this person is coming from. But I also feel like there's a lot of pent up something in there. So from micromanagement point, you have to consider what field we're in, right? It is such a highly subjective, personal, unique field. Where your opinion, your view, your perspective? If you're a designer. If you're a researcher. You might be a researcher that has a certain set of sub skills. Right. Or a designer who has a certain set of sub skills. Right. And they have to make and if they are your manager or they're in leadership roles. Right. They have to make sure that the work is a certain type of way that represents that specific company. So when you come fresh in or you have a very unique point of view, which can be helpful in a lot of sense, but also has to be sometimes micromanaged in order to ensure branding or whatnot, right? So I think when it comes to that, we also have to consider I'm going to just speak for me personally. We're not people people, okay? We are people people when it comes to research. And we love our participants and we love mingling with other researchers, but we're not necessarily the best people people when it comes to managing because we have other things in our head. We love data, we love research, we love facts, we love design, we love the newest software, right? We're not necessarily concerned with people management. So I don't know that it's been my experience. I've had some great and I've had some not so great ones, but I also have had two other careers and I can tell you for 100% fact that in there. I also had sucky managers, so it is not UX specific. I don't know. Barry, what do you think as far as UX being worse than other fields with having had more careers than one too? I think your point about we are people and we have the same strengths and weaknesses as any other discipline. I think on the whole, I've not had terrible management. I've had some certainly within the HF domain. I guess I'll qualify that a lot within HF people. When I've worked as part of the HF department or had an HF client or whatever, generally they've all been pretty good. I think I've been quite lucky that way. But when you look at the overall projects as well, I've also had some terrible managers. But that's just again, people, I think what you said is right, that, yes, we are very people focused all the time, and that doesn't necessarily make us brilliant managers. I think when the right people harness it, it can almost go too far the other way that we become so empathetic with what we're doing. We try to apply too much about what we do with HF to the management role, and sometimes we need to almost step back from that in order to deliver. And I tend to be a lot more concerned about what my team are doing and how my team are then sometimes what they're doing. And I'm giving myself the metaphorical slap around the back of the head to remember that we've got to deliver. But fundamentally, I don't think we're any better or any worse. I think there's things we do better. I think if we had a project I've said this before, I consider the glue that generally holds great teams together, but when we're managing our own, when we're looking after HF people or UX people, I think we're also as fragile, as vulnerable as any other manager, I think. Nick, what's your experience? I mean, you manage a team as well, so I'm assuming you're awesome, totally awesome. Ask anyone in the lab how organized and well put together we are, and they'll tell you that we need some work to do. But there's a couple of things that I want to touch on here. First is don't mistake collaboration for micromanagement. I think this is a field where egos need to be put in check, because the more eyes on something, the better that thing is going to be, ultimately, because people are coming to a project, a product or service with various viewpoints, and if they can bring those different viewpoints and say, hey, have you thought about this? It's not to put you on defense, it's to maybe patch a hole in sort of your expertise that maybe they're trying to fill. Right? So again, don't mistake collaboration for micromanagement is kind of the first thing I'll say. If you are, then maybe reevaluate. But in terms of my experience, it depends. I'm going to hit the pens button on this one, because it's not typical to see bad management. But like both of you have said, it's just like any other field. There's going to be people who are great at managing, and there's going to be people who are not so great at managing. And I kind of wish we had Christie on the show so she could talk about that manager panel. But I think that's sort of one view that I have. Is just that there's going to be people who are good for it. People who are not good for it. And it's kind of where you're at and what resources they have available to them. Because it might not always be a person think it might be what resources or what constraints they're dealing with on their end that is going to ultimately limit their ability to manage effectively. So, no, I don't find that UX or human Factors leadership sucks. I don't find that. All right, well, why don't we get into this last part of the show? It's just one more thing. This is where we simply talk about one more thing. That's it. Heidi, what is your one more thing this week? Now that we've had all the show? I'm not sure I want to bring that one more off. I have a bone to pick with automated call centers. And so that is where I am absolutely flabbergasted and shocked every single time that we have these amazing advances in human Factors research, UX design and all these things. And every time I call, it takes me ten minutes to get somewhere through. I don't understand it. I don't know why it is so challenging. I don't understand why we can't get to a point where you can just say something and you get to somebody and you talk to somebody instead of going through ten menus and then being kicked back. And then the worst is at the end when the lady on the robot says, thank you. Try again. Maybe next time, and it's like, okay, well, I just spent a half an hour talking to you, and so that would be my one more thing. I don't know what your experiences are with the call centers and the shock that sits deep in me that we can't design them better. The sympathy, the empathy. Yes. No, I completely get that. My one more thing this week is we are going to be designing an extension to the house, so we just have planning approved. So that's amazing. So now we're at the point where we design the kitchen, and so we're going to have detailed design development. And so I was browsing this evening just before the show and look at different things. I'm a gadget guy, all this type of thing, and I found something that took my breath away. The gadget that you can get now is a microwave that's in a draw. So rather than have the thing, so you pull up. This is amazing. I mean, the Usability of this thing, it means that it's not up on high, you're not pouring it on yourself, all this stuff, and I'm just completely blown up. And then to add to this level of amazement, so I then start searching. Where can I buy this in the UK? I don't think we can actually get them in the UK. Just you're Americans who've got all these, which is fantastic, you know, check you out and your gadgets. But then the extract hood above the cooker can be integrated with a microwave. I mean, that's brilliant. I want these things in my kitchen, so my challenge to anybody who's listening out in the state is I want to know where can I get a microwave drawer that I can get shipped over here at reasonable cost or anything that anything that integrates really coolly, that perhaps we don't have anything over here. I don't know. Do you have one in your house that you can just ship over? Heidi, would you be able to do that? So I actually just redesigned it, and yes, I will have a microwave and a drawer. And when you make grind, I just picked it out. When you mentioned the what did you call it? Overhauled? Yes, the extract. Yeah, in the microwave. That's old news. Berry you can now have it right behind your cooking. So mine is going to be it's a little slit that is right behind your stove, and it just opens. And if you want to, you can slide it a little bit up or down, but it literally just pulls the smoke over here. So I will no longer have to have any of that over my stove. I feel like we're so 20th century over here in the UK at the moment. Somebody should bury a microwave drawer, please. To be completely honest, I didn't know the microwave drawer was a thing before this. I'm going to make that one of the shorts this week to see how many people knew as a thing. My one more thing this week is, well, I'm still recovering from HFS, I got to say. We went out to that thing, and coming back last week, I kind of hit the I had to hit the ground running on a couple of projects. And just this week, I'm kind of wrapping up on a few major things that have been working on for a while, and it just feels good. I mentioned to you guys in the preshow I'm on a break right now because we have a family friend in for Halloween. This is relaxing to me because my major projects are in review, and it feels good. That's all I'm going to say. All right, well, with that, that's going to be it for today, everyone. If you like what this episode enjoys, some of the discussion around exoskeletons. I'll go encourage you to go listen to episode 235. We talk. About paraplegic walking again with the assistance of technology. It sounds a lot like this one, but it's different, I promise. Comment wherever you're listening, what you think of the story this week. For more indepth discussion, you can always join us on our Discord community. Visit our official website, sign up for our newsletter. Stay up to date with all the latest Human Factors news. If you like what you hear, you want to support the show, there's a couple of things you can do. One, right now, wherever you're at, you can leave us a five star review that is free for you to do and really helps us out. Two, always tell your friends about us. That helps us a little bit more than the five star review. Word of mouth is truly how we grow. People only listen to the show when they say, someone says, hey, heard this show. A couple of people talk about Human Factors every week and it's kind of cool. Or three, if you have the financial means to do so, you want to support the show. That way, you can always consider supporting us on Patreon. We're always adding new rewards over there for people who support us financially. As always, links all of our socials on our website are in the description of this episode. Heidi, thank you for being on the show today. We're going to listen to Go and find you if they want to talk about the pronunciation of your business name. Okay,

I guess it could be an Icebreaker, right? So you can find us at www hfux, as in Humanfactors User, and then you can find us on Twitter at hfuxresearch. Same thing on LinkedIn. Hfuxresearch. And guess what? On instagram on hfus research. So if you can't find us, find me Heidi Merritt on LinkedIn. And I'm happy to engage in fun conversation always in FYI. I always look for people who are looking for a mentor, so I know we brought that up in the chat. So if you're looking for a mentor, feel free to DM me. Awesome. Thank you, Heidi. Mr. Barry Kirby, thank you for being on the show there. Where can our listeners go and find you if they want to talk about where to find microwave drawers? Well, if you've got a stock of microwave drawers and you want to send one to me, then you can slide into my DMs on Twitter at bazaaruscoy. Or if you're listening to some interviews where we get in touch with interesting people from around the Human Factors domain and find out what it is that they do, then come and find us at the Twelve or Two Humanfactors podcast at twelve., ask for me if you want to come find me and talk to me about pressuring my co host into is embarrassing things in the outro. You can find me on our discord at Nick Underscore Robe, as well as all social media. Thanks again for tuning in to Human Factors. Cast until next time. It depends. All right. We did it. We made it through.


Heidi MehrzadProfile Photo

Heidi Mehrzad

founder and ceo

Heidi is the founder and CEO of the medical human factors and usability consultancy HFUX Research, LLC, which specializes in medical device, technology, and combination product research, design, testing, and development. With a wide-ranging background as a trained pilot, emergency medical technician, software analyst, and human factors and usability expert within the (medical) product development industry, her motivation for the past 20 years has been directed towards enhancing human-product performance by optimizing user interface design, information architecture, and user and product workflow, through the application of human factors science and usability practices. She holds patents in GUI design for medical imaging and surgical navigation software systems, a BS in Aeronautics, and a MS in Human Factors and Systems, both from ERAU, as well as technical degrees in IT Mgmt. and Emergency Medical Services, from SHU and DSC.

Barry KirbyProfile Photo

Barry Kirby

Managing Director

A human factors practitioner, based in Wales, UK. MD of K Sharp, Fellow of the CIEHF and a bit of a gadget geek.