Thursday, 7 April 2011

Usability Design of a Micro System Clock

I just bought my wife a lovely Birthday present: a DVD micro system (Philips DCD 377) to replace her very tired CD micro system in our bedroom. There was one thing on the old system that I was confident the new one could easily match: and LCD display with a clock on it. How wrong was I. And just how is it possible to get the design of a clock so wrong?!

So, first, I thought I'd list the use cases of this clock. I think they're pretty uncontroversial:

  • I look at it to find out what time it is when I enter the room
  • I look at it to see what time it is when I'm woken in the middle of the night by one of our sons
  • I peek at it in the early hours to see if it's time to get up yet

It turns out that none of these have been accounted for in the simplest sense!

You see, the interesting feature built into the system is "eco". It's possible for me to switch the system into this mode and turn off the LCD display (saving a couple of watts probably). However, if I choose to turn this feature off (my choice remember) the system switches itself into eco mode anyway after three or four minutes. So for any of my use cases above, I have to find the remote and press a button. Actually hold a button down for three seconds. And then press another button. You'll notice that a lot of this happens in the dark: not good, and seriously error prone: I completely re-tuned the radio this morning instead of discovering the time.

Two big problems with the design here:

  • Turning eco mode off was my decision and shouldn't be messed with.
  • That first three or four minutes when the clock stays on is precisely the period during which I WON'T need to look at a clock again: I just looked at it, so I've a fairly accurate guess at the time anyway!

If the designers are so desperate for me to save some energy, they've completely missed, because I'm going to hunt down an alarm clock with an LCD display and plug it in anyway! Fail.

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