Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Remote Usability

broken remote control Ever since I read Don Norman's The Design of Everyday Things, I've been hyper-sensitive to things that have really poor usability. His classic example is doors: how often to you walk up to a door that has handles on both sides, tricking you into pulling instead of pushing? Doors like this require an instruction manual: "Push" or "Pull". But the problem is that, if it's a glass door, you'll read the backwards word through the glass and still do the wrong thing. It isn't you, it's the door. If something as simple as a door requires a manual, it's really poorly implemented.

Here's a recent case of something simple whose usability is so profoundly broken it needed a manual. I spoke at TechEd this year. They are one of the conferences that absolutely require that you use their machine for your presentation. On the stage, they had a remote control to use for your slides. It looks like the image to the left. Normally, the button the right moves to the next slide and the left button moves you one slide back. Yet this stupid remote reverses that. Of course, you can turn it upside down, but it clearly had a right-side up. To fix it? Someone affixed labels to it to fix the utterly broken usability.

As developers, we need constant diligence for usability. While it probably made perfect sense to some remote control creator because of the electronics to put the buttons on the wrong sides, but it ruins the usability. If a 2 button remote can't get this right, what hope do we have when building a rich client?


Reginald Braithwaite said...

I can't real where I read this, but the aphorism was "user manuals are lists of design mistakes."

To that, I would add: labels on controls explaining what they do. Especially labels added by users.

Andy Carlson said...

I may be showing my age, but this reminds me of a Commodore 'PET' game called 'Nightmare Park'. I think the game was deliberately designed to be enfuriating. One stage required you to avoid a 'herd of antelope' (err... arrow characters) as they scrolled up the screen at you. The enfuriating part was that they used the 'L' and 'R' keys to move left and right.

You could always spot someone playng this game because they would cross their hands over on the keyboard for this bit!