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THE HUMAN FACTOR

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TECHNOLOGY For those of you who forever swear at your computer, cringe at the beep that signals a stern Error message, weep over Commands that won’t clear up a mess on the screen, rage at Help messages that don’t or puzzle over cryptic icons, take heart. JEFF SCHUELER understands.

Schueler runs a lab called Usability Sciences Corp. in Irving. His mission: to test the comprehensibility level of personal computer software on real people, or Users, as you are called.

And if your software isn’t user-friendly, don’t blame yourself, Schueler, an ex-IBMer who started the lab in 1988. says he routinely finds Menu terms that do not describe their function, Error messages that don’t define the problem, Help topics that are incomprehensible or entirely missing, icons that no one understands and tu-torials that contain errors. In fact, Schueler says he finds “sins of omission or commission, or just flat out errors” in every document he tests.

The testees, randomly recruited PC users from the Dallas business population, love it when they can say something doesn’t work or doesn’t make sense-and know the manufacturer is going to hear about it. To a generation still in awe of computer technology, it’s like telling the emperor that he’s missing some garments.

Schueler’s lab is one of only a handful in the country that independently test either shelt products or pre-release software packages while developers are still combing them for problems. Surprisingly, testing on people (it’s called Human Factors engineering) is a fairly new concept. The big outfits-IBM, Microsoft and Apple-now run their own internal labs, but the rest, including Lotus and Tandy, rely on independents like Schueler.

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