Might Have Kept That VCR If It Stopped Blinking 12:00

from the product-design-for-the-masses dept

We’ve all seen various gadgets with the worst interfaces imaginable — and wondered who in the world designed them. While many readers of this site are likely to be technology-oriented, and more willing to put up with bad user interface design, that’s not so true for many other people. A new study has found that the inability to figure out how a device works in about 20 minutes leads to approximately half of all returns blamed on the product “malfunctioning.” In other words, in the minds of many consumers, the fact that they can’t figure out the gadget (and the 600 page, poorly written, manual doesn’t help matters) means that the gadget is malfunctioning. Maybe instead of spending so much time looking for ways to allow things like our mobile phones to control our toaster ovens, some of these companies should put a little effort into a better user experience. There have been some stories about more emphasis on user interface, but it would appear there’s still a long way to go.

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Might Have Kept That VCR If It Stopped Blinking 12:00”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Compujas says:

Re: Re: Alarm Clock

Actually, alarm clocks do exist that have back/forward buttons for setting the time so you don’t have to scroll through 23 hours. Of course they aren’t the most common, but I have seen/used them. My own alarm clock actually has a dial that you turn either way to set the time (it’s VERY old, probably close to 15 years old and it still works, Dual Alarm even, leading to my next point). There are alarms that are at least dual-alarm capable, and I believe I may have once seen a clock with an alarm for each day, but I can’t confirm that for sure.

As for the point at hand, all the fun is in learning how to use your new gadget(s). That’s how you know when you need to buy something new: once you’ve learned it, all the fun is gone and it’s time for a new one to learn. Digital cameras are and endless source of learning “wtf does this button do.” Home theater systems too. So many settings.

asnoozer (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Alarm Clock

ok, lets try this again…

well, I have an alarm clock that automatically sets its time off the home electrical wires (I dont know the name for this technology, but it works great). It has seperate alarm modes for weekday and weekend and a huge snooze button. IMHO, the best alarm clock I’ve owned.

this time the URL is correct

(and yes, next time I will proof-read my posts)

Logicbomb says:

Re: Re: Alarm Clock


its a combination of lack of common sense, stupidity, and poor attention span. to blame this problem entirely on poor UI design is shortsighted and ignorant of other contributing factors.

face it – we are accustomed to wanting everything right now, from email to cellphones. that, combined with the fact that for some reason electronics companies are obsessed with compressing 14 different devices into something that can fit into your pocket, is a recipe for… well, study findings like this

JoshS says:

Re: Re: Re: Alarm Clock

It is designers with attitudes like Logicbomb that lead us into these cases of poor usability.
In a very real sense, if a device cannot be used by the average user, it *is* malfunctioning–it’s just that it’s a design error rather than a failure to properly implement a technical specification.
You can’t always just blame the user when your technology is too difficult to actually use when it’s needed. The writings of Don Norman enlightening on this subject. For example, using the term “pilot error” to refer to many cases where the technology was so poorly designed that even well-trained professionals didn’t catch the tech-related problems.
The bias against the user is formidable, and I view this research as the users (the important people) waking up and realizing that they are not at fault for bad design.

Avitarx says:

Re: Alarm Clock

Will there ever be an alarm clock where you don’t have to scroll through 23 hours, if you want to set the alarm an hour earlier?
My cellphone is a great alarm clock, Auto updates the time, 72 hour battery backup, really loud and annoying tone, and I just hit 7 buttons to set it to any time (menu 4 1 xx:xx (time in 24 hour format) OK).
The only problem it has is the button marked snooze is ajasent to the turn off alarm button, fortunatly any key on the keypad snoozes too. It is the best alarm clock I have ever had (though in hotels I also use a wake-up call).

BigTeebo says:

time displays

Here’s a bright idea: Most vcrs have a numeric keypad remote: why not just let me punch in the right time? No more up/down. heck, not even TIVO lets you do that with time setting to record a program.

Yes, I had an old clock radio with an old-fashioned display, with the flipping cards(like the countdown timer in LOST). Setting that 1 hour behind was fun. 23 hours of scrolling fun.

Mousky (user link) says:

Aim for the lowest common denominator

A good UI and good manual goes a long way. I gave my mom a Samsung Combo VCR/DVD for Christmas. Setting it up was straightfoward. The menu system was logical and easy to use. It helped that there were not tons of options. One day the power went out and the clock reset. My mother got the manual out and was able to set the clock her self, not bad for a 63 year old Polish lady. The manual was well written as well. It uses a graphic of the remote to show you which buttons to press.

I recently purchased a cordless phone system by Panasonic. The manual is well written and logically organized. The box inlcuded a graphic of how to repack everything should have to return the phones. Amazing.

Seth says:

Good UI is the most important function

Good UI design is what prompted me to choose an iPod over an IRIVER HD120 last year. I bought the iRiver first, but was frustrated by all the crappy little buttons everywhere and the complex menu system. Then I looked first-hand at an iPod, and was immediately sold. Simple menu, elegant controls, and it’s soft on my skin. 🙂

Sure, the iRiver cost less, had more storage space, and more features (FM radio, line in). But, when it comes down to it, what’s more important? Features, or the interaction experience? To me, and probably most people, the experience is the most important thing of all.
That said, nowadays I pretty much never use my iPod. Why? I’ve got XM in my car and iTunes radio at work. No playlists to juggle, nothing to plug in, nothing extra to shop for, a single button (ON) and I’m set.
I’m all for learning the ins and outs of a new device, but lately I’ve been questioning the value of all this multi-functionality. If you have to hit more than two buttons to get something to work, it’s just not worth it. Basically, give me one gadget for each function (music, games, phone, food) and put a big green “GO” button on each one, and I’d be all set. Just make them small enough so I can fit all of them in one pocket, please.

xdcds says:

Best Alarm Clock

Any PDA (ever since the first PALMS) will serve as GREAT alarm clocks. I now have one with Windows Pocket PC, and just using the calendar, and adding a new appointment at the time you want to wake up will do wonders. You can set it to occur only on weekdays, and you can snooze, you can set custom tones, even mp3s as your wake up call.

Dosquatch says:

No Subject Given

and the 600 page, poorly written, manual doesn’t help

Seriously, what’s the last product you purchased that had a manual even a fraction this big? The biggest manual I’ve seen recently was about 40 pages long – 4 languages, 10 pages per language. My car owner’s manual isn’t even this big. In fact, most of the electronics I’ve purchased recently don’t have written manuals at all, they have fold-out pictorial posters that show how to hook the device up (a practice I believe was started by HP with their printers)

BigBooks says:

Re: No Subject Given

I purchased an mp3 player that came with two manuals. One for the device itself 142 pages (half french and english, and a second manual for the program to put things on the device that is 104 pages (again half french and english). I also have a digital camera whose manual is 150 pages. So manuals larger than 40 pages do exist.

? says:

You may be onto something here.

Even as a geek, I find myself frustrated by poor UI. Afterall, the UI is there to help increase productivity. If the UI is clumsy, then it is worthless to me.

Case in point, Fedora Core 2, Command line interface . useradd -p [pw] [user] doesn’t work! Why not? Instead of adding a user with one simple string, I have to use two different strings. While this doesn’t add too much time to my day, it did take some time for me to figure out that the -p flag is worthless in this distro of Linux, and it is slightly frustrating that the people developers allowed a stupid bug like that got past their quality control department.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...