I like Daylight Savings. It’s not because we get an extra hour of sleep or start leaving work when there’s still a hint of sun. It’s not even because I can take bets on which friend shows up late/early to our plans the next day.
Nope. I love resetting clocks. Or, more precisely. I love trying to figure out how to reset the clocks on old car dashboards, microwaves, and ovens.
You’d think that this would be an easy UX problem to solve. If I were the product manager for a microwave, I’d write these user stories:
- As a brand-new microwave owner, I want to set my microwave clock to the right time so that I can also use it as a clock.
- As a fastidious microwaver, I want to change the time by one hour forwards or backwards twice a year so that I can continue to use my microwave as a clock.
- As a person attempting to reheat a burrito, I want as few buttons as possible between me and “express cook”.
Simple, right? The third user story is so dominant, however, that it’s hard for the first two to get a word in edgewise. How do you make it easy to change the clock twice a year while hiding that functionality the rest of the time?
Here are some attempts.
Step 1: To solve the problem of infrequent functions, the designers of my microwave created an easy-to-find “user pref” button with all the settings: child lock, sound on/off, auto start, language, and clock. So far, so good.
Step 2: Then, like a classic touchtone customer service menu, the microwave lists all the options. Sounds good, except that clock is NUMBER FIVE. You have to wait for all the other options to march greenly across the screen first. What kind of insane multilingual family is changing the language on their clock more often than the time? Are danger-prone children moving in and out of households this fast? The order of this menu is nonsensical and it will irritate me biannually. Or until I move or tape a reminder to the microwave.
Step 3: I can enter the time in on the touchpad. Phew, we’ve changed the time.
Step 1: Sweet Jesus, my oven has a “set clock” button. I press it, hoping that the rest of the process will be as easy.
Step 2: There is a little light above “set clock”, and the colon in the time has begun to blink. Reassuring. So I press the down button. The time decrements by one minute. I search the interface for another button that might let me switch to the hour. I press each other button: at the same time as “set clock”, immediately afterwards, twice. I try long presses on “set clock”, the up and down buttons, and several other buttons for good measure. I try waggling my fingers at it. No luck.
I’ll repeat myself. On my oven, the most common clock interaction requires pressing the up or down button SIXTY TIMES.
One more, for good measure. For the record, there are a lot of bad clock interfaces in the world, and this one is somewhat random.
Step 1: Um, I’m not sure. Should I use the bell (#1)? Nope, that’s for setting a timer. Every other button is either a plus/minus button or seems like it might be on fire.
This is a gas oven, which relies on flammable material existing very near an open flame. I’m nervous about buttons that might be fire.
We’ll skip to the end. The button you need to find is #6. You also need to be sure enough to hold this torch-shaped button until you hear a click and the numbers start flashing.
Step 2: Use the “+” and “-” buttons to adjust the time by the minute. You might be here for a while. See exhibit A: my oven.
Step 3: Press the torch-shaped button again. Be relieved that you have not started a fire.
Try it at home
This is a difficult problem, with a wide variety of possible solutions. So next time you hit the open road in a rental car, take a minute to try and figure out the clock. Fail or succeed, but laugh a little in the attempt.
Then thank your lucky stars that you can get where you’re going, even if the clock is wrong about when.