Bell Labs Human Factors

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MP3 Audio Audio | 06:33 | Commissioned | Posted by Rio Pesino | February 25th, 2008 12:30 pm

Understanding is Only Human: Discover how the Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs Human Factors team is helping to deliver a superior user experience

Alcatel-Lucent is committed to helping operators deliver a superior user experience. One of the ways to help is to gain an intimate understanding of end-user behavior and the Bell Labs Human Factors team is one of the many groups within Alcatel-Lucent doing just that. The team is made up of Ph.D.s with an average of 15+ years professional usability experience working to:

- Understand the cognitive, social and behavioral influences on communication.

- Grow a collection of profiles and scenarios that will forecast the needs and habits of today's young adults and tomorrow's workforce.

- Design and create intuitive, engaging applications, based on the research and understanding of human communication, while seamlessly meeting the needs of users.

Listen to Cheryl Coyle as she addresses the following:
1. What is the Bell Labs Human Factors team?
2. What are some of the activities currently underway?
3. Why should our customers care?
4. What's next?

Cheryl L. Coyle, Ph.D., leads the Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs Human Factors group in New Jersey, USA.

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Rio Pesino: Hello and welcome to another Alcatel-Lucent User-Centric Experience
Podcast. Today we’ve invited Cheryl Coyle to speak on another aspect of
understanding end-user behavior. Cheryl leads the Bell Labs Human Factors Team.
Cheryl thanks a lot for joining us on this Podcast.

Cheryl Coyle: Thanks Rio, nice to be here.

RP: Now Cheryl, let’s start from the beginning, what is your team all about?

CC: Well my team is a traditional Human Factors team conducting end-user research. Human Factors has a long history in Bell Labs, some people even say that Human Factors was born in Bell Labs in the 1940s but whether or not it started here, we’ve certainly have been doing cognitive and behavioral research for over 60 years. The Human Factors team is just one of the many groups within Alcatel-Lucent that’s dedicated to understanding the end user. Typically what we do in Human Factors is we study end users of a particular system or application, product, etc, interact with the specific hardware or software. We use the basic principles of psychology, specifically cognition, memory, perception, learning and behavior to understand as well as predict how people will interact with technology. As long as we learn about how people use a system, we can improve the design of it so that people can use it – it matches the nature tendencies of human behavior. That’s pretty much in a nutshell what Human Factors is.

RP: Tell me Cheryl, what’s going on today with your team?

CC: Well Rio, in addition to the applied practice of user interface design at Bell Labs like I just described, we recently embarked on a new initiative, something I find to be very exciting, study of young adults use of communication technology. So we’re trying to explore more about how people communicate, why, when and with what kind of device. We’re in the process of trying to figure out what’s at the basis of communication in general. For example a student in college, sitting at a computer, why is it that he chooses to send an email to their professor but at the same time chatting online through IM, instant messaging, with friends? Or they will take their cell phone and call their parents back home but they will take their cell phone and text their buddies who are just in the next dorm room. Our goal with all this research is to better understand the basic framework for communication. Why are people choosing certain media some of the time with some communication over others and which aspects of their current situation – their context – are affecting people’s choices? As we are answering these questions we are growing a collection of profiles and scenarios which are going to forecast the needs and habits of today’s young adults and tomorrow’s workforce. We’re using this research to form the design of new network services and products and to help our customers.

RP: Now Cheryl, why should your customers care?

CC: End users are changing. We are not the same group of people who grew up using dial tone telephones and not knowing what a PC was. Today’s people have grown up knowing how to use technology from the beginning. Users are more sophisticated with their communication services and in fact they are demanding much more personalized and seamless communications. They want ubiquitous communication, anywhere, anytime to do whatever they want, with whatever device. Our work as Alcatel-Lucent is to provide insight to help our customers better. By understanding end-user behaviors and trends and decision making that happen, whether consciously or not, we can translate this knowledge to better solutions, at the right time. We can help our customers prepare for tomorrow by developing smart networks so they can roll-out their end-user services quickly and more profitably. All this points to higher customer retention and stronger top-line growth, so our customers surely will care.

RP: If you goal is help your customers develop smart networks, why are you guys focusing so strongly on young adults?

CC: That’s an interesting question. Why are we not looking at the whole gamut of users? We really kind of are trying to address all the users but young adults are especially fascinating. In fact my colleague, Jay Peterson, just completed a Podcast on the Millennials and he describes this segment of the population as being collaborative and influential. Young people expect services to adapt to them, not for them to adapt to communication services the way we had to do. By studying what they do now before they even enter the workforce we can come up with innovative insights and usability advances that are going to support how they communicate five, ten, fifteen years from now when they do enter the workforce and manage themselves and their families. Think about instant messaging, here we have an example of consumers who are actually influencing the enterprise market. Young adults were busy at home chatting online with IM and then they enter the workforce and they continue to use this tool, IM , but now they are doing it with their colleagues. This makes IM go way up in the enterprise market. So, this population of users is very important to study because what they are doing before they enter the workforce can significantly affect that just a few years later. These people are our future.

RP: So what’s next for this particular initiative Cheryl?

CC: In addition to observations of young people using their cell phones that we’re doing right now to better understand their communications; we’re actually interested in finding out more about the actual communication, the nature of the communication that takes place on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. What is different about that kind of communication than picking up your cell phone and making a voice call or even a text? The nature of these communications is different and we’re doing some work on that. In fact we’ll be publishing some of our work on social networking in an upcoming edition of the Bell Labs Technical Journal. Another thing we are working on right now is some end-user profiling of the enterprise worker. We are in the midst of quantifying and categorizing the kinds of communication behaviors that office workers engage in on a daily and weekly basis. The idea behind that is to better help our customers understand the needs that they have today and tomorrow.

RP: Cheryl, one last question. Will you come back to talk to us? I personally and I’m sure those listening to this Podcast would be interested in hearing results from the studies currently underway?

CC: Well thanks Rio, I would love to come back, absolutely. I would love to come and give everybody a sneak peek of our findings and how it can impact our customers.

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