Steve Martin

Designer, Thinker, Student of Human Behavior

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My Microwave - a lesson in usability

As I mentioned in the Usability Virus, the more you get in to this whole "usability" thing, the more you see it (or the lack of it) all around you. Case in point: our new microwave. We recently got rid of our dinosaur of a roaringly loud microwave, and got a nice & shiny new one. The number of options for microwaves out there are stunning, especially when you think about the fact that 87% of the time you use it for reheating your coffee, and 10% for thawing frozen chicken breasts because you forgot to take them out this morning and the wife wants you to grill them and everyone's hungry (that other 3% is, of course, popcorn).

The other annoying thing about a new microwave is that you have to learn a whole new magic combination of buttons just to do the coffee thing! The first microwave we had (that I can remember) when I was a kid was the kind with the dial. Turn it to 1-minute, it cooks for 1-minute and *ding* you're done. Easy. Then everything got all digital and fancy, and now I could choose between 44 and 45 seconds, but I had to press "Clear"+"Time"+"45"+"Cook"+"Power"+"10"+"Start" when ALL I wanted was "45"+"Start".

So imagine my joy and delight when I went to warm up my coffee the first morning we had this new microwave and ALL I had to press was "45"+"Start". That's IT!! *[insert sound of angels rejoicing]*

microwave usability

microwave usability

Okay, okay, it's just a microwave (as my exasperated wife reminded me when I took the above picture), but the SIMPLICITY of the basic function is a thing of beauty. Sure, there are all KINDS of other options like cooking temp, a fancy defrost feature, blah blah blah, but I'm most concerned with that 87% of my time.

The lesson here: Simplify. If you have a website (or product) that has a bunch of different functions, fine. But figure out which of those functions is most used, and make it DEAD simple to do THAT. The other stuff is useful and necessary, but people want and need to do that ONE thing more than anything else.

What's that ONE thing for you?