I moved last year, which was a lot of work but has ultimately been great. One of the small drawbacks of the kitchen in my new house is that there’s no good space for a microwave, so our only criterion we had when buying a microwave was that it be as small as possible. We found a suitable-looking Panasonic “Inverter” microwave on Amazon – small, a polished stainless steel look, good-enough customer reviews, inexpensive. It’s terrible.
By way of background, my favorite button on my last GE Profile microwave was the “Add 30 seconds” button. This button not only had the right increment (now that microwaves are so powerful, 30 seconds is a more relevant measure than one minute) but the “Add 30 seconds” button actually started the microwave. You hit just one button and the thing turns on.
Contrast this with my Panasonic. It has a big knob that you turn to add time, poorly solving (because it over/undershoots too easily) a problem I didn’t have in the first place. The microwave does have an “Add minute” button but it’s one in a grouping of five of tiny indistinguishable buttons, one of which is a “More/Less” button that as far as I can tell does absolutely nothing. The “Start” button is in that grouping as well, just as tiny as the rest of them. What a mess.
I’m sure the Panasonic design team doesn’t think they’ve made a terrible microwave. They’re probably proud of all the tricks their gadget can do. And I suspect that there’s a microwave power user out there who might appreciate the refinements – though I suspect it’s still poorly designed from a user experience perspective.
The interesting question of course is how Panasonic succeeded in willfully ignoring the most common use case for 95% of their users 95% of the time. Instead of stopping to figure out what they actually wanted their microwave to be good at, they chose instead to show their customers everything they could make it do.
Easy and trivial to chuckle at this sort of thing, except that this unwillingness to make real choices is everywhere, and it’s reflected in decisions big and small. It’s why most nonprofit appeals and stories are indistinguishable from one another. The message is, “we do lots of great things, we’re happy to talk to you about it, but mostly here’s a story that shows that the work we do has heart.”
Without deciding who you want to make happy, where you want to be great, you end up in an indecisive morass of nothingness.
Need proof? Look at the next five nonprofit newsletters you get in your inbox. Four of them won’t have a breath of life in them, a whiff that they were written by an actual human being with a voice and a personality. And the one out of five that actually stand out for having a real voice still will often fall in the trap of 18 ancillary links and articles and “follow us” links and job postings and donate buttons and…and…and…because we may as well put that all in there if we’re sending the thing to 10,000 people.
As usual, the team at IDEO.org shows how to get this right, and reminds us that Swiss Army Knives are good at almost nothing.
(p.s. sadly it seems that the Microwave Oven Standard UI Project never really got off the ground.)