I suppose good design makes an object a joy to use, whereas bad design makes it a pain. Everyone notices, but I think being a design geek means you not only do you notice, but you appreciate and improve.
The longer I’ve been in software, the more of a design geek I’ve become. I relentlessly evaluate software because it’s a big part of what I do, but over the past decade or so, my geekery has spilled over into real life.
Over the weekend, I was encountered two real world designs that bother me: the car clock and the coffee maker.
The car clock
Daylight saving time happened here in the US about a week ago, and my wife hadn’t rolled the clock in my car ahead yet.
I didn’t recall how to change it, so I fiddled around for about five minutes trying to figure it out, giving it an intuitive test. This is definitely not an operation that should require the user manual.
I eventually combined the right button (aptly called Time) with the tuning dial to advance the clock. The key bit was turning off the radio so the tuning dial didn’t change the station.
This is a relatively spartan dash, being a Jeep and all, but even so, the combination seemed overly complex compared to say the H and M divots next to the clock display on my wife’s car. Those are perfectly intuitive, but maddening for another reason.
I never have the right tool to push them, i.e. a pen, a paperclip, etc.
Reminiscing about the other cars I’ve owned, I recall they each had a button/dial combination that was tough to remember, with the exception of one which buried the time adjustment function three levels deep into its car OS.
As much as I never have the right tool for the job, I appreciate the ease of use of the clock in my wife’s car.
Changing the time in your car isn’t a very common use case, e.g. I do it two a year. So, I naturally stumbled onto a question:
Is it OK to make a feature hard to use if that feature is not used very much?
The design geek in me says no, but the PM in me says yes and then backslides to probably.
The coffee maker
My coffee maker mysteriously died last week, which is a catastrophe. Working from home means lots of coffee. No coffee maker is a very bad thing.
We tend to go through coffee makers pretty frequently, like every four years or so. I assume that’s frequent, anyway.
My wife insists on white coffee makers, which means I don’t generally have much selection. So, our last one was bought more out of necessity and less out of feature richness.
Still, it had a bunch of features: auto-start brewing, auto-off element, small pot setting, decalcification warning, audible alarms, and more.
And it only had four buttons to control all these features.
When we got it, I had to read the manual, and I had to keep it nearby to reprogram the thing when my wife unplugged it, fearing a fire.
Programming that thing was like Dance-Dance Revolution for your fingers. Even after nearly four years, it still took me 5-10 minutes to get it ready to go.
So, I wasn’t that sorry to see it die. Now I need to figure out what features I really need and ideally get a chance to test drive them first.
I’m thinking about this beauty, mainly because I have a buddy who has the stainless version. I haven’t quizzed him on its interface, but I just might, even though that’s a bit strange. He knows me.
The question in this case is, does a coffee maker need that many features, and if so, isn’t there a better way to implement them?
Bit of a softball question, but I always wondered how that old coffee maker’s design was deemed usable.
So, are you a design geek? Do you notice good/bad design? Did you know Paul has a Flickr group for “Adventures in Bad Design“?
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