Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Design Options

I want to talk about two designed items, the choices behind them, and the resulting ease of use: an alarm clock and a recycling can.

I have a Brookstone alarm clock, with a long-life battery so it will always (or, for longer than the rest of it will last) remember the time, like magic (that's the idea). As a user feature, they built into it the time change for daylight savings. Which is nice, since I don't have to ever change the time, it does it automatically, like my phone and my computer. Except I do have to do it, four times a year, since the US Congress changed when we change the time.

The problem is it's hard coded, and not at all flexible, and the information that is hard coded into it (what date the time change happens) did indeed flex, but the device can't. So, zero was better than two (zero changes if the clock changes the time, twice if I change the time). But now it's four, and if zero is better than two then we know four is pretty terrible.

(To be clear, it's four because it changes earlier than it now should, so I have to change it back, then it doesn't change when it's supposed to, so I have to change it again, and do this the two times a year we change the clocks. And this only works if I live in part of the US where we change the time.)

Automatic time change? Good usability decision. Hard wired? Not good.

The other item, a recycling can, I saw the other day at one of the artsy theaters on Houston street here in NYC. One problem with a lot of public-area recycling cans is that people are busy and their attention is elsewhere and they throw out trash in recycling cans, which makes it look like a trash can and more people do it. But this design had a little lid with the recycling logo on it, and you had to lift the lid, which meant you had to look at it and think, "How do I open this, aha a handle, oh look a recycling logo." It forced you to slow down a second, and think, but only a very small, easy amount.

Granted these are two different areas of design, but they both remind us of the importance of design, and how little things can make a big difference. Also, flexible systems.