Copyright 2005-2012 by Philip Kortum.  All rights reserved.
Philip Kortum
Rice University

Voting System Usability
Voting is an essential activity in our democratic system in the United States. Before the Florida voting problem in 2000 (with the infamous butterfly ballot) very little research had been done to assess the usability of our nation's voting systems. We are now beginning to examine various aspects of voting systems, trying to understand how users interact with these systems, what kinds of errors they make and how we might design secure voting systems that are highly usable by the general population and those voters who may have physical disabilities. We are examining issues such as 1) the usability of non-traditional voting systems (like smartphones and telephone voting), 2) the usability of highly secure voting systems, and 3) the measurement of trust in voting systems, just to name a few. Some recent publications:                                                                                                                                            
  • Kortum, P., Byrne, M.D., & Whitmore, J. (2021). Voter Verification of BMD Ballots Is a Two-Part Question: Can They? Mostly, They Can. Do They? Mostly, They Don't. Election Law Journal 20(3), 243-253.  
  • Kortum, P., Stein, R., Acemyan, C.Z., Vann, E., & Wallach, D. (2020). How Human Factors Can Help Preserve Democracy in the Age of Pandemics. Human Factors, 62(7), 1077-1086.
  • Acemyan, C.Z, Kortum, P., Byrne, M.D. & Wallach, D. (2018). Summative Usability Assessments of STAR-Vote: A Cryptographically Secure Voting System That Has Been Proven to Be Easy to Use. Human Factors.
  • Kortum, P. & Byrne, M.D. (2016). The importance of psychological science in a voter's ability to cast a vote. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 25(6), 467-473.  
  • Campbell, B., Tossell, C. C., Byrne, M. D., & Kortum, P. (2014). Towards more usable electronic voting: Testing the usability of a smartphone voting system. Human Factors, 56(5), 973-985.

Measuring the Usability of Products and Services
One of the biggest questions that arises in industry is trying to determine how usable a new product or service is before it is launched to the public. We have been collecting data using Brookes' System Usability Scale (SUS) for over two decades now, reporting on what usability scores look like across wide range of products. This data allows usability practitioners to benchmark their results against a varied set of products and services, including consumer goods, software applications, and medical devices. We have also been working to develop metrics that will allow practitioners to more easily describe the results of these scores for easy dissemination across the product development teams and determine some of the factors, such as user experience and task success rates, and personality (to list but a few), that might impact those ratings. Some recent publications:
  • Kortum, P., Acemyan, C.Z., and Oswald, F.O. (2021). Is it time to go positive? Assessing the positively worded System Usability Scale (SUS). Human Factors, 63(5), 987-998.Kortum, P. and Bangor, A. (2015). 
  • Usability Ratings for Everyday Products Measured With the System Usability Scale (SUS). International Journal of Human Computer Interaction., 31, 518-529.
  • Bangor, A., Kortum, P. and Miller, J.A. (2009) Determining what individual SUS scores mean: adding an adjective rating scale. Journal of Usability Studies, 4(3).
  • Bangor, A., Kortum, P. and Miller, J.A. (2008) The System Usability Scale (SUS): An Empirical Evaluation. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 24(6).

Determining how to best implement usability in specific mission-critical systems
Usability can be an important factor in whether users adopt and use different kinds of technology. Good usability leads to widespread adoption, while poor usability can lead to users abandoning the technology in favor of other, better, and more usable alternatives. In mission-critical systems, correct operation is paramount to the achievement of an important goal. Human factors involvement in these critical designs helps ensure that users of these systems can accomplish their goals without error in a timely fashion. I am currently working in several specific areas of mission-critical usability, including medical devices, education systems, and transportation. Some recent publications:
  • Robertson, I.W. and Kortum, P. (in press). The Usability of Face Coverings Used to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19. Human Factors.  
  • Sharman, J., Wallach, D.S., Kortum, P., and Acemyan, C.Z. (2021). Good Examples help; Bad Tools Hurt: Lessons for teaching computer security skills to undergraduates. International Journal of Computer Science Education in Schools 5(2), 74-92.  
  • Johnson, J., Asma, E., Acemyan, C.Z., Oden, M., Richards-Kortum, R., and Kortum, P. (2021). Development and use of heuristics to evaluate neonatal medical devices for use in low resource settings. Journal of Usability Studies 17(4), 12-20.                    
  • Tossell, C. C., Kortum, P., Shepard, C. W., Rahmati, A., & Zhong, L. (2015). You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him learn: Smartphone use in higher education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 46(4), 713-724.                          

I am interested in a number of applied human factors issues,as described in these brief summaries of some of my ongoing work:
If you are  a potential graduate student, and find one of these research areas interesting, please don't hesitate to give me call to discuss them in more detail!