The roles of conceptual device models and user goals in avoiding device initialization errors

in Interacting with Computers, Journal article


While mistakes, and approaches to design and training that reduce them, have been studied extensively, relatively little work in HCI studies 'slip' errors, which occur when one intends to do a certain action during a skilled task but unintentionally does another. In this article we examine approaches to training that might reduce the occurrence of a slip error referred to as a 'device initialization error'. This error occurs when skilled users of a device forget to perform some initialization action, such as positioning the cursor in a text entry box or setting the device into the correct mode, before entering data or performing some other significant activity. We report on an experiment studying the effects of two training interventions on this error, which aim to manipulate the salience of the error-prone action without making any physical changes to the device. In the first intervention participants were given a particular conceptual model of the device's operation, to evaluate whether having an improved understanding of the effect of each action would lead to fewer errors. In the second, participants were given a new device operation goal requiring them to 'test' the device, to evaluate whether attending to the outcome of initialization actions would lead to fewer errors. Only participants who were asked to 'test' the device and also given enhanced instructions to enter dummy data after completing initialization actions showed a statistically significant improvement in performance. Post-test interviews and evidence from existing literature suggest that when participants forgot the initialization step it was because they were attending to the subsequent data entry steps. This study highlights the central roles that user goals and attention play in the occurrence (or avoidance) of slip errors.