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    « Method 6 of 100 – Future Workshop | Main | Method 7 of 100 - Claims Analysis »

    March 01, 2011


    Stephen, how 'bout a follow-up post on the Harmony? Did they nail it? Has the critical/common task changed? Did they converge on the one workflow to rule them all?

    As you mentioned, for a long time VCR manufacturers engaged in a race to the bottom. VCRs became commodity items and as a new feature was added a new button grew alongside.

    The focus was on making unit costs cheaper, putting new features on the adverts and basically shifting as many boxes as possible.

    That said, I don't see the VCR technology as being the limiting factor (evidenced by the long flourishing market in third party remotes), but rather the will to put the user first. The task the user wanted to do didn't really change, the problem was that neither did the product design. VCR manufacturers focused on the technology and how the user could be contorted into getting more out of it. When Tivo came along they really put the most common workflows at the heart of their experience - which in turn drove the technology.

    In a similar fashion, in software, it is common to just add a new button / option when a new capability comes along. We as an industry tend to fall back on existing taxonomies and decide where the new feature fits. I think the challenge to us as designers is to continually keep the users tasks in mind and make sure the UX serves those tasks rather than constrains them.

    I agree with your point about prioritizing workflows for sure. This remote control case led me to thinking (probably too much) about these products and their controllers:
    Looking at the context, the tivo remote is part of a complete product experience that has been designed for - and relies on - interactive use, while the vcr remote is a commodity object engineered to meet product requirements- probably because the design program for the vcr remote was to cost as little as possible and to be thrown in a drawer, its only important functions, play and pause, commonly duplicated by another device. I doubt design was a priority at all, let alone any explicit consideration of use. I wonder if a designer even worked on it.
    Up another level, why? Why did the vcr remote deserve so little love from its creators? Why didn't they try to do a better job? There were definitely some better vcr remotes out there at some point. Why didn't the best vcr remotes become the standard?
    It must be because the vcr itself was a pathetic amateur at everything but playing back a program in real time. Videotape technology sucked at everything else. We didn't care- we used it because it was so much better than having to watch movies with commercials on broadcast TV! Professionals who relied on this horrible technology had better control interfaces (remember the jog/shuttle dial? Wow.)
    But the vcr was horse and buggy technology. No amount of careful button design on the remote could have solved the bigger product problem- it needed to evolve. There was no market pressure to fix remotes like that because doing so couldn't address the limitations in the technology.
    Maybe this explains why every home theater receiver currently sold also comes with a crappy, impossible to use, 78-button remote. These products are just horrible to use, but we put up with them (or don't) to get dramatic surround sound. The only important control feature they offer is volume up and down. Everything else is an annoyance we tolerate while waiting for the technology to evolve.

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