Design of Everyday Things: Microwave Keypad

4 Apr

I’ve never been able to use any feature of a microwave oven other than the most basic ones. I’m not that smart. But does a person need to be smart to be able to use a microwave oven? Or is it poor design?

To answer this question, I looked at four microwave ovens (one at my home and three at the office).  There are buttons with labels for what those buttons are meant to do. It’s obvious that the most common functions have dedicated buttons like, popcorn, pizza, beverage, and soup. And for those that want to warm other things, there is a keypad for setting the time.

They all look simple enough until they don’t.

Design issues

  1. Other than popcorn, pizza, and dinner plate, different manufacturers have their own assumptions of what people most commonly warm. Is Auto Defrost the most common use of a microwave that it needs four buttons (the first image)?
  2. You have to look hard to find the button your need.
  3. The organization of buttons is arbitrary and different on different models.
  4. There is no indication what the buttons mean. Auto cook, auto defrost, auto reheat? More/Less of what?
  5. All buttons have similar appearance.Why is weight defrost next to power?
  6. Treating all varieties of something equally. There is a button for popcorn. Do all popcorns pop at the same time? A button for dinner plate. Are all dinner plates the same size with the same food? Does everyone need to warm their food the same amount? Do all beverages come in the same cup, same quantity. Does everyone need to warm the same amount of the same pizza?
  7. Even the timer buttons function differently. One one model, pressing 2 then start runs the microwave for 2 seconds while on another, pressing 2 (no start) runs it for 2 minutes.

The microwave is a simple household appliance. It doesn’t need to be difficult to operate. People, from experience, know how much they want their food to be warm. Can we have a simple interface, may be, just a keypad and a start/stop button and another button to increment the time by 30 seconds?

Related readings
Design of Everyday Things: Water Dispenser


2 Responses to “Design of Everyday Things: Microwave Keypad”

  1. Loretta Helliwell November 6, 2012 at 10:58 pm #

    I always use microwave ovens at home because they are very very convenient..

    Take a look at all of the most recent write-up at our own web site


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