A trip back to my parents home inevitably involves figuring out why the TV isn’t working again. Their TV is only a few years old, so it, like anything built in the last five years, has the cesspool of bells and whistles we’ve all come to expect and dread. And like other modern technological whizbangs, their TV comes with an anchor called the remote, which once you discard the indecipherable user’s manual, will most assuredly drag you down to the depths of despair.
After my Dad has exhausted his capacity for fixing the problem, he hands over the remote control to me. This is as welcome as being asked to operate a stealth bomber. The remote is a killing machine without the blue sky and super sonic speed. Out of curiosity, I counted the buttons on the face of the remote. Fifty-eight. Really, engineers? We’re watching our favorite reality shows, not splicing genes or expanding on the string theory.
Perhaps I’m being hasty attributing all the blame to engineers, who are simply doing the bidding of the divas with an expense account. What the heck is wrong with you marketing people? Where were you all during the focus groups? Checking your messages? Grabbing a quick latte? You left the room of elderly folks who volunteered to test the remote control’s usability, and there they were – pushing all 58 buttons and wondering if the thing was intended to produce a picture or blast a hole through the screen. You idiots. Not you, elderly people, you, marketing people. Is your bonus dependent on how many useless and confusing buttons the engineers can cram onto the device?
Shame on you. You’re creating a confusing, terrifying, and frustrating world for millions of older people, who just want to turn on the television and join Alex Trebek on Jeopardy. Granted, it’s just a TV, but for the housebound, it’s a lifeline to the larger world. This inhuman and cruel treatment of the elderly enrages me.
One of the more irritating and egregious flaws on my parents’ particular remote is the location of the ONE BUTTON THAT SHOULD NEVER BE PRESSED — the SOURCE button. Press the SOURCE button and the earth reverses it’s rotation. Okay, not really. What happens is that the source of the signal switches and renders the TV useless, unless watching a screen filled with snow amuses you. But back to the button’s location. Think about how you hold a remote — the hand covers most of the face on the device, the heel of the hand rests ON THE SOURCE BUTTON. Notice the problem, engineers? Anyone? Anyone?
Donald Norman, brilliant usability engineer and author of The Design of Everyday Things, would be ashamed of engineers, marketing staff and anyone else responsible for foisting this nonsense on a huge portion of the population. It makes me wonder how tolerant the perpetrators would be if they had to fix their parents TV or DVR every time they visited. Or how about this very special form of torture: each time the engineer or marketing person tries to order his or her latte, they have to push 57 buttons in just the right sequence. And if they accidentally hit the SOURCE button, they’re ejected from the coffee shop.
I had to call one of my brothers long distance to get him to diagnose the problem. In a few seconds he solved the problem and proposed a remedy that might prevent my Dad from accidentally pressing the Source button. See below.
Corn pads aren’t just for corns anymore.
A must read: The Design of Everyday Things, by Donald A. Norman.
Norman’s belief is that designers too often create unworkable technology because they fail to understand a human’s point of reference and his or her relationship to the environment in which technology is used. Director of the Institute for Cognitive Sciences at University of California, San Diego, the author examines the psychological processes needed in operating and comprehending devices. Examples include doors you don’t know whether to push or pull and VCRs you can’t figure out how to program.
Link to the book review: