Slow down and think it through

September 5, 2007 | 7 Comments

How easy is it to overthink a design solution? Quite easy. Slow down and think it through. Just remember ABXY.

As we’ve covered before with alarm clocks, technology found in hotel rooms is often poorly designed, likely purchased from the cheapest possible source. They buy cheap, they get cheap.

For example, here is a game controller designed by LodgeNet, a company trying to keep you inside your hotel room, tethered to the entertainment system, when you should really be outside exploring the new city.

LodgeNet game controller

Notice the cluster of four buttons on the right-hand side. They are labeled A B X Y. But which button is which? Is the Y button on the top or on the left? Is the A button on the bottom or on the right?

What I find most impressive here is that the labels are almost perfectly centered between the buttons. This is not an accident. An actual person out there (I apologize if you are reading this) made a conscious decision to center those labels. They probably thought, wow, this will look better. Sure enough, it’s pretty. Pretty hard to figure out!

Labels are one of the easiest things to mess up. Poor choices of words. Misplaced, or just missing. Heck, look at the orange button. It’s both Reset and Order. Reset is a button of Noncommitment, Forget It, Go Back. Order is a button of Commitment, Do It, Go Forward. They have opposite characters, yet they are doubled up on the same schizophrenic button.

I know somebody out there is thinking, there is a light blue pair and a dark blue pair. X and Y must go together, as must A and B. Therefore the light blue pair is X and Y and therefore the Y button is on the left. Well done! You solved the code.

But anytime someone has to think through and deduce an interface, that interface has failed. More accurately, the designer has failed by forgetting that someone is supposed to use this thing.

Every little design decision we make adds up. In every product we make, there are probably hundreds of little areas that can potentially cause confusion and hesitation. The lesson here is, slow down. Notice the little things. Think it through.


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