Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sometimes you have to shed a little dark on the problem.

I bought this fancy DVD/CD/HD-Radio player to watch movies in the bedroom.

This is a closer view of its remote control. Can you see the major flaw?

“Can you see the major flaw?” was a trick question (psych!), because here’s what the remote control looks like when the lights are off.

The Problem

In the dark (e.g., in my bedroom when I'm watching a DVD), this remote is just a hard-to-find small rectangle with a bunch of small buttons. Because it’s symmetrical, there is no way by sense-of-touch to tell up from down. Because it’s so complicated, and all the buttons are identical, to use this remote in the dark I have to memorize the location of the buttons.

The most common button I use is play/pause (for potty breaks).  So here’s what I’ve learned to do:
  1. Feel around for the tiny remote (I can't tell you but I know it's mine).
  2. Count the buttons down five from the top, three from the left.
  3. Push that button. If the movie plays/pauses I’ve got the right one.
  4. If that didn’t work, turn the remote around 180 degrees and go back to step 2.
I’ve memorized similar steps for volume up/down.

Occasionally I’ll hit the wrong button and get the system in a bad state. Then I have to turn on the lights to figure out how to restore order.

The Problem Behind The Problem

I’m sure the team at Polk Audio thoroughly tested their remote control to make sure everything worked, and that they didn’t miss any functionality. I can picture them now in white lab coats (I’m not sure why the white lab coats, but that’s what I’m picturing) running through a very thorough script of remote-control scenarios, validating that the buttons always worked, that the images on the buttons did not fade, and that the battery lasted a long time.

What I don’t picture is anyone on the team taking their new product home, trading their white lab coat for pajamas, turning off the lights, and using this remote control to watch a movie. Had they taken this simple step of putting themselves in their customer's place, they would have realized immediately that their product had some serious design bugs.

Today’s Takeaway: If you’re creating a product that will be used primarily in a dark room. Try using it in a dark room.

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