Ideas for Startups

, Oct 16, 2005

Simplicity takes effort— genius, even. The average programmer seems to produce UI designs that are almost willfully bad. I was trying to use the stove at my mother’s house a couple weeks ago. It was a new one, and instead of physical knobs it had buttons and an LED display. I tried pressing some buttons I thought would cause it to get hot, and you know what it said? “Err.” Not even “Error.” “Err.” You can’t just say “Err” to the user of a stove. You should design the UI so that errors are impossible. And the boneheads who designed this stove even had an example of such a UI to work from: the old one. You turn one knob to set the temperature and another to set the timer. What was wrong with that? It just worked.

Another Paul Graham essay worth reading.

On October 17, 2005 9:29 PM, grumpY! said:

the problem with many appliance interfaces is that they…aim for simplicity! on our combination microwave/convection oven (kitchenaid), the designers attempt to use one panel to control both ovens, i presume in order to keep things “simple”. but its often very difficult to understand what context the keypad is controlling at any given time - the oven, the microwave, or the separate timer function. with the manual knob, there is no attempt to overload the context - one knob controls one burner.

p.s. in another thread you asked me why i do not sign my real name. i prefer to err on the side of anonymity. i wish i could even go back in time and erase the few references my name pulls up in search engines. i do think i am ahead of the curve in this regard…i suspect thart keeping one’s name out of search engines will be the preferred route in years to come.

On October 18, 2005 11:06 PM, Stefan Tilkov said:

But is the single panel you describe really there because anybody really believed this created simplicity? It reminds me of the fat knob in modern cars from Audi, BMW and Mercedes, the one you can use to control everything. For the average user, this is actually much harder to use than good old-fashioned radio or a/c controls. Which may, in fact, be your point :-)