I tend to get caught up in web trends and sometimes it’s hard to think creatively when you are only watching online examples. We are faced with so many interfaces all day that occur offline but it’s easy to take them for granted. I thought it would be a good exercise to document an average day and see how the same principles apply to real life and see how I would change them if I could.
My Alarm Clock
Ok here is my main issue with alarm clocks. Designers fail to take into account the mental state of a user when they are interacting with this. When I am waking up I am barely able to navigate a pair of socks let along master the brail-sized micro buttons that are on my alarm. My alarm clock does not need a MP3 Player, It does not need multiple alarms, it does not need multiple colors, it does not need to waft incense into the air, it needs to have the most annoying sound known to man and the only button on the top should be the biggest button you can imagine to turn it off for 10 mins. That’s it. Oh and don’t make the numbers on the front so bright they create their own light source.(not sure who I’m talking to at this point but I guess I’m assuming that the makers of home electronics are busy studying this blog).
The Shower taps
I’m not sure exactly how many showers I’ve had in my life but assuming that it’s mostly 1 a day for 35+ (cough) years it seems like a lot. There are three controls in my shower: hot tap, cold tap and a toggle for shower or tub. Seems pretty straight forward you would think but I also don’t know exactly how many times I’ve had a icy stream of cold water hit me in the back of my head as I’ve leant in to turn on the water because I didn’t notice that the weird plunger style toggle was set to shower not tub. Debatably I’m not an idiot so I feel that if this toggle was at all intuitive I would have mastered it by now so it leads me to feel that there could be a better solution. Remember (talking to the major appliance designers now) that you are dealing with soapy, possibly hung over, Neanderthals at this time in the morning – for the most part anyways. There are some people that wake up early sharp as a tack. These people are dangerous and should be strongly hated.
I love my coffee machine. It has one purpose: to put coffee in my face. My previous one let me program it to make coffee ahead of time. Again not sure they are keeping their user’s severely impaired capacity for problem solving in mind. I just got up, failed at my three-choice shower interface, and now they want me to stare at the dashboard of the enterprise to find their “brew” button? One button is all I need – like my snooze button – the size of my hand will suffice. Oh and just to guess on the label how about “MAKE COFFEE”? Kudos to Keurig for getting it right.
Ok I’m awake and caffeinated. By the time I get in my car I am ready to get my tech on. But wait what’s this? Looks like my dashboard was taken from the set of Dr. Who. I don’t know why car companies haven’t embraced the idea of a screen but the activision-insipred, knob and lever interface is still rampant on the most recent car styles. How about this: One big touch screen with four big buttons on it: Climate, Media, Navigation and Web. Then each one could have its own updatable interface that is made by actual standards based software companies. So I could have a Kia car with the Microsoft Transit Software pro 3.0. K I know there are some minor logistics that need to happen here but it would be nice not to have to buy a new car just to get MP3s to play. It would also be nice not to have to search for which knob does what when you press it in and twist it counter-clockwise.
Other than the incredibly long time it takes to process the transaction (more noticeable in -30 degree weather) these are pretty good for the most part. I do find myself guessing on some parts for example does OK = Yes = Enter = Green? They seem to be interchangeable but sometimes split into different buttons. Consistency is the key here and it’s makes me wish there was a WC3 standards compliancy rating for everything interactive – not just the web. This would be especially useful when I’m told to press the hash key… I mean pound key..err.. number sign.
Unless you are planning to cook an entire meal with your microwave (and if you are then you might want to look into some alternate ways of preparing food) my thinking is that the majority of us use the microwave for three things: popcorn, reheating food… ok two things. I don’t defrost in my microwave mostly due to the short answer essay it expects me to fill out about my proposed item. This is the same problem I run into when I hit the “popcorn” button. I press it and then it asks me how much it weighs. It’s one bag. Why doesn’t it ask me how many bags? I don’t know how much it weighs but I suppose I get on the bathroom scale with it and then put it down and weigh myself again. If I subtract my weight without the popcorn from the weight holding the bag I should be in the ballpark. How about instead when I hit popcorn it automatically puts it to 2 minutes on high and starts?
Hey did we just give up on land line phones? Why the hell are these still so big and klunky? I am positive there will be a time capsule that is dug up in the not too distant future that will contain VCR tapes, zip disks, Wham t-shirts and office phones. They will all look ridiculous and everyone will laugh and point. The sad thing is we still use these phones. Why are they still corded? Why are they so big? Why do they have enough buttons to play Beethoven’s 5th on them? I know there must be a reason. I blame Russia.
I have no words for this. All I can tell you is that ever since we got our fridge our food has never been the right temperature.
Ok I don’t really have a beef with this for the most part. Here is the question though: why aren’t the interfaces on the washer and dryer the same? Obviously they would have different options but if the dryer has a button on the right for “Start” why doesn’t the washer have one? Why do you have to pull out the dial to start? I’m not sure of the logic behind it but I imagine the reason starts with something like “if it ain’t broke…” Perhaps everyone intuitively knows to pull out that dial to start the wash. Heaven forbid we employ any of the digital learning we’ve done in the past few years like you see on a microwave. Let’s add a few more knobs and perhaps a big ship wheel you can spin to get things going.
We’ve come a long way since the old dial TV. Now instead of having 2-3 options we have two million. I’ve seen some great articles on this so I won’t bother to go over how ridiculous most remotes are but I will say this: Again – thinking on the state of mind of the user and the environment they are in – is it safe to say that a lot of the time the user is in the dark or in poor lighting? Shouldn’t the menu be mostly onscreen which is always bright? I’m a big fan of the XBOX interface, or the apple remote – there is no reason my PVR remote couldn’t work like that. Ok there probably is but I don’t want to hear it. I don’t have time for details.
So that’s my day interacting with one dashboard to another. I find it good for inspiration to recognize what your habits are and how you react to things especially when faced with something new. Do you intuitively figure it out like you’ve used it for years or do you struggle due to poor labelling and hidden options? What mistakes did the manufacturer make in your mind? What would you do differently? Guidelines and best practices for usability don’t just apply to the web they can easily work across the board. Cameras, VCRs, DVD players, Alarm systems, cell phones, TVs, radios etc. all seem to get a free pass most of the time but it’s the ones that really design for users and habits that will shine.