When microwaves need help buttons, it’s not a good sign

Microwave in its natural state

Michelle blogged a few weeks ago about how reading “The Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman changed her view on design in the world.  Norman believes that when people encounter objects in their lives that are hard to use and make them feel stupid it doesn’t actually mean that they are stupid, but that the object is poorly designed.

Moving into a new house last week has forced me to confront many new everyday things, and some of them are better designed than others.  From the light switches that seem to have no relation to the lights they turn on, to the thermostat that takes 20 minutes to program, to the fact that the house was decorated by a bachelor, questionable design runs rampant.

While all of these are an adjustment the most challenging design I have encountered is our new microwave.  When I opened the door for the first time, a previously black area on the side lit up.  My first thought, “Look at my fancy new touch-screen microwave!”, was followed quickly by “This is going to be a pain to use!”  I was not encouraged by the fact that the designers decided to designate one of only three physical buttons as ‘Help’.  The final straw was that every time I used the microwave the panel at the top which covers the vents fell open.  “Great”, I thought, “it’s broken and I bet this fancy microwave will cost an arm and a leg to fix!”

The "broken" microwaveAfter about a week in the house, the microwave and I have made peace.  It does take eight pushes of a button to walk through the steps necessary to heat up my leftovers, as opposed to four on the microwave at work. Also I am happy to report that my microwave is not broken, it just is too fancy for me; when I finally gave up shoving the vent cover closed every time it opened, I found out that it will shut itself after the timer goes off!

I must be a glutton for punishment because I just ordered a touch-screen washer which will “communicate with the dryer to preset the dry cycle” and “communicate with an electric utility” company . . . so stay tuned for the next installment of Megan vs. the appliances!

Have stories about poorly designed appliances, or any other design stories?!  Please share below, and don’t worry about feeling stupid, it’s the design—not you!

About High-Tech Anthropology(R), User Experience

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3 Comments

  1. November 9, 2013 at 11:40 am

    My favorite microwave button was the “Chaos” button. Who would be willing to push that?

  2. November 9, 2013 at 11:55 am
    • Menlo Innovations Says:
      November 14, 2013 at 9:47 pm

      Brad, that video is amazing (and scary, all at once).. Thank you for sharing!

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