Sunday, September 13, 2009

Learning Log III: Washed Up

(washer interface)

(dryer interface)

Some interfaces are terrible due to their frustrating complexity; others just don’t give the user enough information. The washer and dryer interface located on my apartment’s floor is an example of the latter. Although the interface does its job properly most of the time, the lack of information presented by this interface is extremely frustrating to its users.

(I preface the following statements with the fact that I know how to work this interface to its potential due to having used a similar setup last year as a freshman.)

First and perhaps most annoyingly, there is no indicator of how long an operation takes. The washer takes a half hour per cycle and the dryer an hour, but you wouldn’t know that without periodically checking. One would think that if a company can put the price of use on an appliance that they would also include the time you are paying for, but maybe that makes too much sense. This is a simple problem that could be easily fixed, and falls under Norman’s motto of “making things visible” (Norman 17). If the user cannot see that washing his or her clothes will take a half hour, then how are they to know and plan accordingly around it?

Less frustrating but still worrisome are the time constraints presented by a washer and dryer setup. No choice is presented other than to pay for the full half-hour and hour cycles, respectively, so if one were to wash only a small amount of clothes they’d still be forced to wash and dry everything for an hour and a half (and for three dollars!) If the interface recognized amounts of quarters as pockets of time, rather than simply utilizing an all-or-nothing method, people could wash their clothes when it’s both timely and financially convenient.

Much like the annoying oven Norman mentions in his discussion of conceptual models, the washer and dryer setup will either allow you to wash for the entire time or none at all (Norman 14). Considering that most college students have to scramble for change and often put off their laundry until they’re practically out of clothes, it’s unreasonable to expect that type of usage all the time. If the designers had thought about all of their possible users, and not just one demographic, this interface would be more convenient and better tailored to most situations.

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