Site: IBM Japan Limited
Human Factors Lab.
1623-14, Shimo-tsuruma, Yamato-shi
Kanagawa-ken 242, Japan
Date Visited: May 25, 1995
Report Author: S. Chipman
IBM Japan includes both a marketing operation (approximately $10 billion in sales) and the Asia-Pacific technical operation. Manufacturing operations in Japan are in Yasu, Shiga Prefecture, and Yamoto. The Yamoto (Tokyo) laboratory is one of four corporate laboratories worldwide, the others being in Yorktown Heights, NY; Zurich; and San Jose, CA. Yamato has primary responsibility for R&D in support of IBM's laptop Think Pad computers (except the 500 series), as well as Japan-unique products such as a "green PC" with low power requirements and a smaller Think Pad sold only in Japan.
Among the Technology Support areas in the lab are a Human Factors Group and also a Human Interface Design Group. The former group includes six persons: two industrial engineers, two physical anthropologists, and two psychologists, one of whom specializes in visual psychophysics. The latter group, which the JTEC team did not visit, is composed of industrial and graphic designers. Human factors work began at IBM Japan in the 1970s, and the Human Factors department was founded in 1985.
The Human Factors Department conducts applied research in very direct support of both product development and marketing. For the most part, the research activity in human factors appeared to be directed at relatively low-level perceptual issues. Two projects of this type were presented to the JTEC team. One was a psychophysical study of the subjective impact of defects in thin-film transistor/liquid-crystal displays. A mathematical function combining the luminance, color, location, and number of defecting subpixels was developed to provide a score to be used in quality control decisions. A second effort systematically investigated the factors influencing perceived screen flicker for LCD displays.
The Human Factors group also has a large, well-equipped usability laboratory with four remotely controlled video cameras and some capacity for software recording of key strokes. Evidently this lab is primarily used for informal studies in which development engineers are brought in to observe users. At the time that the JTEC team visited, a comparative usability study among several competing brands of PCs was being done to support market operations.
Additional interesting discussions resulted from a chance remark about the portable computer used to make the presentation, which was unique to Japan. It had a small keyboard, said to be unacceptable in the United States, and considerably lighter weight, said to be an attractive feature for train-commuting Japanese. Japanese entry on this keyboard used hiragana. Acceptability of the smaller keyboard was attributed primarily to the smaller size of typical Japanese hands rather than to possible different typing methods.
IBM. N.d. Attaining and Delivering Quality Products. Brochure.
____. Practicing and Harmonizing with the Environment. Brochure.
____. Communicating with Customers. Brochure.
____. Searching and Creating Tomorrow's Product. Brochure.
____. Using and Building Development Support Systems. Brochure.
Tamura, T., and Y. Gohda. 1995. A psychometric scale of TFT/LCDs with a few defecting sub-pixels. Paper read at HCI International '95, 9-14 July, Tokyo.
Yoshitake, R., and R. Kataoka. 1995. Measurement of TFT/LCD flicker for ISO compliance. Paper read at HCI International '95, 9-14 July, Tokyo.