"People are Used to it"

25 Dec 2008 - 11:34am
5 years ago
24 replies
1202 reads
DampeS8N
2008

This phrase has become the mantra of amature interaction designers and of the electronic product industry in general. It is the road block in the way of new and better ways to control our systems. It even prevents logical enhancements to our otherwise well-designed products.

Take the new philips HDTVs. At least the one I have has put a lot of thought into their remote and UI. To set the colors it shows you a bunch of photos in split screen and asks you which looks best. It has a minimal amount of buttons on the remote. (although they missed a switch aspect ratio button which is about the most-used non-core functions on a TV)

They even have a input source system that lets you more quickly switch between the 15 inputs by not switching channels right away and letting you up and down arrow through the list.

However, here is where they missed the mark.

I can change the labels on those inputs, I can change the labels on the channels too. It even handles collisions from multiple sources with x.1 x.2 x.3 channels. But with all these hundreds of options. I am stuck the same chan upchan down idiom that has always been on remotes.

I'm not an industrial designer. But even I was able to think up a much better alternative. Replace the volume and channel buttons with mouse-wheel-like dials. And in the case of the channels, pop up a list of them like a cable-box channel guide and let me dial through them.

The snap-to feeling of the wheel will give me a rough estimate of how many I've passed, and if it requires I depress the wheel to go to a channel, then I will have saved a lot of time and frustration.

You could even use a wheel that can jog to one side or the other and use the side motion to traverse a menu. Or for volume.

I've actually had a TV where the remote had a wheel for the menu. It even depressed. So I know there are no technological concerns preventing it.

I can't be the first person to think of this. Why isn't this the norm? Is it only because of the "People are Used to it' mantra? Or is there more to it then that? Can you think of more examples?

Will

Comments

25 Dec 2008 - 9:55pm
sajid saiyed
2005

Hi,
Philips does have a rotary remote technology which specifically
addresses the issues you mentioned above.

This might be helpful:
http://www.remotecontrol.philips.com/index.cfm?id=1581

Regards

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25 Dec 2008 - 10:18pm
DampeS8N
2008

My TV didn't come with it. Also, the blurb doesn't mention it being
a replacement for chan-up and chan-down.

But, doesn't really make my point moot. If they are just NOW coming
out with it. Why didn't it become the standard 10 or 20 years ago?

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25 Dec 2008 - 10:54pm
Troy Gardner
2008

But, doesn't really make my point moot. If they are just NOW coming

> out with it. Why didn't it become the standard 10 or 20 years ago?

Membrane Switches are much cheaper to manufacture than the various items
that rotary encoders use, and likely last longer, less prone to breaking
from crumbs, spilled drinks, dog chewing etc.

25 Dec 2008 - 6:17pm
darci
2009

"People are used to it" is a horrible excuse for just about
anything. And I doubt many people would argue that point.

That aside, when examining the usability of anything, it is important
to understand people's goals. Are people interested in quickly
scrolling through channels? Are people interested in browsing
through the channels one at a time to see what the options are? Or
are people frequently bypassing the TV's channel changing system
because of cable boxes, satellites, TiVo, and whatever other systems
are out there?

I'll admit that I haven't owned a TV in several years, but I liked
clicking through the channels to see what was on and it sounds as
though the click wheel would complicate the way in which I did that.

How well can people with limited dexterity interact with
mouse-wheel-like-dials? Television remotes are used by a huge range
of people, with differing physical capabilities. Would wheels
exclude part of the target population? I really don't know the
answer to that question, I'd be curious if someone could shed light
on that topic.

There probably are better options than the current one. I don't
particularly have any suggestions though, but the problem is not
quite as simple as it may initially seem.

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26 Dec 2008 - 3:08pm
DampeS8N
2008

So you are saying that having a remote that is cheaper and will last
longer than my LCD TV is likely to last, is more important than ease
of use and speed?

Your point is identical to saying that the reason we didn't use
ball-mice was because the arrow keys on the computer were more
reliable... Only we did use ball mice, because even if someone had
re-mapped arrow-keys with click buttons. The mouse is clearly better
and worth it.

The last remote I had with a rotary device still works fine and is
nigh on 15 years old at this point, came with an old Panasonic VCR/TV
combo which I still use to watch standard def programming like the
Daily Show. If a 10 year old (me) couldn't destroy that remote.. I
used to chew on it, toss it about the room, pretend it was a
lightsaber. The only part about it that broke was the front plate
protecting the LED. I glued it back on and it has been fine since.

I can't say the same thing about the Westinghouse LCD HDTV I bought
about a year and half ago. I can't see IT lasting 15 years.

I'll reserve judgment on the new Philips.

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26 Dec 2008 - 11:49pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Dec 25, 2008, at 11:34 AM, William Brall wrote:

> I can't be the first person to think of this. Why isn't this the
> norm? Is it only because of the "People are Used to it' mantra? Or
> is there more to it then that? Can you think of more examples?

I think it's lazy business practice.

Evidence suggests that profits lie elsewhere:

"This shift in consumer preference to the cheaper electronic device
could well be a reaction to the recession. But it isn’t the same as
the consumer suddenly, and consciously, reaching for the house brand
of creamed corn instead of the one with the Jolly Green Giant on the
label. It is not just the economics of a shopping-fatigued nation at
work here. Consumers found the simple devices, which don’t need
instruction manuals to set up and use, more appealing."

-- NYTimes, "The Year of the Simpler Gadget"
12/20/2008
http://is.gd/dEvC

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks Twitter: jmspool

27 Dec 2008 - 10:52am
sylvania
2005

I agree that it's lazy business practise. It's the same thing we see all the time in our industry, in all industries. It's the "good enough for now" phenomenon, and it piggy-backs on the "don't know what I'm missing" mentality.
Since most people are passive consumers, if what they have is working well enough, they don't tend to spend any time envisioning how it *might* be better. For businesses, the highest ROI comes from innovating in new areas, rather than improving existing ones that have been working well enough.

How often do we see this in our own work? How much time do you spend improving established areas of your software or web sites that are working for users, versus implementing new functionality? Most of us have a backlog full of things we would love to improve, and plan to get around to... eventually... during that magical release cycle when we don't have anything new to design or implement.
I look around my home and see so many things that I would have expected to be so much better by now, so much more elegant or automated; the technology to make all of these improvements has been around for many years, and in most cases the changes would be cheap to design and implement.

This is a topic that has always riled me up - which is probably why I'm a designer. ;) But in all honesty, would *I* buy that new smart refrigerator or (finally!) usable remote control? Probably... eventually... but what I have is working well enough for now. It took me several years to hop on the Roomba bandwagon, and next to my iPhone, that's one of my favourite gadgets I've ever owned.

I'd love to get some of your thoughts on how - and if - we, as designers, can combat this mentality.

Cheers,
Sylvania

User Experience Designer
TechSmith Corp.

27 Dec 2008 - 12:34pm
DampeS8N
2008

Still, we aren't talking about roomba or iPhone. Both of which are
substantial costs. We are talking about enhancements that could be
free, or in the case of remote technology, almost unnoticeable to the
consumer.

Since a company that developed such a remote, would add it to all
their TVs and no one set of consumers would see the cost of its
development.

All they would see is a tool better able to handle 200 channels.

I'm so far very impressed with my new Philips TV. It was cheaper
than all the others too. Mainly because it is a little old and not
120 hertz and only has 3 HDMI inputs and so on. But aside from the
strange missing aspect ratio button, it has a very well-thought-out
remote/UI combo.

I see your point about the small changes. But if they would really
help people. If it would make your site more effective. You should do
those things along side your new things. You should fix what will stay
and add new things.

If you aren't fixing what is staying, you'll just eventually cut
that feature out when you decide it isn't effective. When all along
it was because you neglected to fix it.

In other words. Brings a axiom about Noses and Faces to mind.

The fact is, the remote as it is forces a choice between 3 conditions
for the user. One in which he must press up from channel 15 to channel
255. A second, where they must remember that the channel they want is
on 255. And a third (one I use) where a user must guess a close
enough number, for me it is 222, and then move around from there.

I chose the third option because that is around the middle of the HD
channels, and I don't always know what I want. I look at the guide.
(In this case the one Tivo gives me)

Now I realize that speeding up tivo is a bitch. But the whole reason
channel guides on cable and tivo boxes exist at all is because the TV
itself is woefully incapable of dealing with user's desires.

So something else 'good enough' replaced it.

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27 Dec 2008 - 1:26pm
Mark Schraad
2006

>

The brutal truth in this conversation is that 'better ideas' are a
dime a dozen and rarely align with business plans or strategy. I hate
to be the one painting a grim picture here... but the majority of
companies struggle for acceptable profitability. They often operate
like the the tandem cyclists heading up hill... with the person in
back keeping the brakes on so as to not slide backwards. As ludicrous
as it sounds... innovation and making products better is often viewed
as an unnecessary risk and most certainly a distraction.

I am not making excuses for the business... but almost all of them
are followers looking to reach par. From the designer's perspective
"People are used to it" is completely lame, and to some extend so is
the 'best of bread' argument, but that is how most businesses try to
focus their limited resources and focus. There is a lot more to
innovation and making products better than just having the 'great idea'.

Everett Rogers does a great job explaining how ideas and innovations
take hold and become common place in markets in "Diffusion of
Innovation". It's not an easy read... but one well worth the effort
for designers who want to make great products and see them succeed.

Mark

27 Dec 2008 - 1:49pm
Troy Gardner
2008

On Fri, Dec 26, 2008 at 12:08 PM, William Brall <dampee at earthlink.net>wrote:

> So you are saying that having a remote that is cheaper and will last
> longer than my LCD TV is likely to last, is more important than ease
> of use and speed?

To you obviously not. And yes to a manufacturer useability and hyper
longevity it's far lower in the food chain.

Churn happens: To keep up with the competition, supply chain, trends/style,
TV manufacturer's (like auto manufacterers) typically have to create new
models every year, regardless or not if the there are any significant
upgrades. Design is disposable, closed source, created with small design
teams and budgets. Unlike the mobile/web industry I'm not sure if things
are getting dramatically better, I don't regularly watch TV.

Penny's Count. Manufacturer's gamble each time they put a new unit out
there, they don't know what is going to sell, what the competition has going
for it. When you are dealing with mass manufacturing of millions of units,
penny's add up. For each TV they typically design a remote to go with it.
So if something costs $1 or $1.50 makes a huge difference as the
manufacturer have to pony up this money up front, and may not see a profit
on many of them ever, multiple this across dozens to hundreds of models...

Consumers Don't Care. Most consumers in the show room most likely do not
pick a TV based on the remote, if they even get to see one. The buy based
on screen size, appearance and cost first, and will probably live with
anything. Jog wheels in VCR's were a trend, but it's not something I see on
most DVD remotes, despite both navigating a linear timeline, possibly
because VCR's can record *shrugs*. From a manufacterer's position, I doubt
there is a huge difference between the good or badness of design of a remote
and the sales of a unit, so it makes sense to not gamble.

Having worked on some ITV projects, the problem for applying the mouse
scrolling paradigm extends deeper when you have the intelligence on the
backend of cable box. The bandwidth downstream is high, but upstream is
tiny, and only suited for high latency events like infrequent button
presses. So you can't play pong. Some set top boxes do have enough
intelligence to support mice/trackballs but these are the minority and
usually cost at a premium.

Anyway if you feel it's that important, aftermarket parts (including
remotes) are a large market, go design a remote control and sell it. Get a
job in the industry and attempt to change it. Stop using your remote as a
lightsaber, get a wii or a real lightsaber instead.

27 Dec 2008 - 2:00pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Dec 27, 2008, at 1:49 PM, Troy Gardner wrote:

> Consumers Don't Care. Most consumers in the show room most likely
> do not
> pick a TV based on the remote, if they even get to see one. The buy
> based
> on screen size, appearance and cost first, and will probably live with
> anything. Jog wheels in VCR's were a trend, but it's not something
> I see on
> most DVD remotes, despite both navigating a linear timeline, possibly
> because VCR's can record *shrugs*. From a manufacterer's position, I
> doubt
> there is a huge difference between the good or badness of design of
> a remote
> and the sales of a unit, so it makes sense to not gamble.

Your position is a commonly held myth. There's been a slew of research
on this. (It's a huge area in behavioral economics.)

If you want to understand how consumers view features versus
usability, I'd start with the Harvard Business Review article,
Defeating Feature Fatigue. http://tinyurl.com/88phdp

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks Twitter: jmspool

28 Dec 2008 - 11:22am
Larry Tesler
2004

Jared,

This digital download is now the bestseller on Amazon. I suspect that
it became so after your comment yesterday.

Larry

On Dec 27, 2008, at 11:00 AM, Jared Spool wrote:

> If you want to understand how consumers view features versus
> usability, I'd start with the Harvard Business Review article,
> Defeating Feature Fatigue. http://tinyurl.com/88phdp

28 Dec 2008 - 12:13pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

Oh, I'd love to think I have that much influence, but I fear it's a
bestseller because it's a good piece. :)

How are you doing? I hope the recent Yahoo! personnel changes worked
out the way you'd hope.

Jared

On Dec 28, 2008, at 11:22 AM, Larry Tesler wrote:

> Jared,
>
> This digital download is now the bestseller on Amazon. I suspect
> that it became so after your comment yesterday.
>
> Larry
>
> On Dec 27, 2008, at 11:00 AM, Jared Spool wrote:
>
>> If you want to understand how consumers view features versus
>> usability, I'd start with the Harvard Business Review article,
>> Defeating Feature Fatigue. http://tinyurl.com/88phdp

28 Dec 2008 - 7:41pm
DampeS8N
2008

It is good to have the kind of free conversation and transference of
ideas we've had in this thread.

I picked the remote control idea because it is easy to wrap your head
around. And so most of the conversation has been about physical
products.

But I've seen the same reluctance to embrace new ideas and concepts
and enhancements even on websites. Where new features are rolled out
once a month or week, but simple enhancements are poo pooed.

Take news sites for example. The vast majority of them still focus on
their front page more heavily than their article pages. Even when the
numbers clearly show that 99% or more of their visitors enter through
the article page. And a large percentage never make it to the front
page even if they progress beyond that one page.

A larger emphasis on how to move from one article to another the
reader would be interested in would be wise. But these sections tend
to play catchup with other sites at best.

Take
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/24/AR2008052400036.html
for example.

The best targeted set of links on this article page are the google
ads. And there is one link at the bottom of the page to a story about
how lame Playstation Home is. With two small headlines for more game
related items. (Clearly, the story is tagged with games and that is
it.)

This is generally the norm.

Why haven't news sites figured out what Amazon has? That even many
blogs have figured out?

And still, I click the link to go to their main site, and the ONE
thing they know about me, that I care about the wii, is irrelevant to
them. Their front page could have been told via session cookie where I
had just been. Known the last 8 articles I saw were all about games,
and made the front page mostly about games, with the main headlines
to keep me situationally aware. So if there were a terrorist attack,
I wouldn't just be told about Playstation Home.

What is the excuse for this? Other than that people are used to it?

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29 Dec 2008 - 9:14am
Rob Tannen
2006

To add-on to Jared's reference, there are a number of articles in the
Harvard Business Review related to usability, consumer research, etc.
I wrote up a summary of some of the most relevant ones a couple of
months ago -

http://tinyurl.com/8q58hw

Besides there educational/informational content, they can help bring
"business credibility" to the user experience table (if it's
needed).

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29 Dec 2008 - 12:13pm
Peter Merholz
2004

In repeated posts, William Brall asked:

> What is the excuse for this? Other than that people are used to it?

I think there are two factors at play. On the outside, they appear as
the "laziness" that Jared identified, but I think it's something
different. It's more of an organizational inertia, where it's simply
easier to do nothing than do something new. This isn't laziness as
such, but a combination of:

- siloed organizations
- risk aversion

The Philips TV is a good example, because I can pretty much guarantee
that the designers of the TV software, TV hardware, and the remote
control were in different teams, and coordinating their work was
nearly impossible. In order for a jog dial or click wheel to work,
you'd need to coordinate across product groups that are likely
currently siloed. Innovation requires busting down these walls,
getting all teammembers who affect a product in the same room, at the
outset.

Risk aversion is a spin on the "people are used to it" sentiment.
Trying something new introduces a greater degree of risk than sticking
with what is standard, and is known to work. Trying something new
consumes resources, and there's no guarantee it will work. In fact,
most new things don't work. So risks must be justified, either as not
being too expensive to try, or with the demonstration of a huge
potential upside.

William's lament is the reason it's so important for designers to
understand and get involved in how their organization operates, and
not be satisfied simply following others requirements.

--peter

26 Dec 2008 - 2:44pm
Anonymous

The idea does make sense. I think what might prevent good adoption of
something like this is the precision of a task... particularly in
changing channels.

Changing the volume of something doesn't require a high degree of
precision. If you're off by 1 or 2 values, there's a level of error
that people are willing to accept. I can see the same being said of
changing values for hue, color, saturation, etc...

However, the same doesn't apply to changing channels, where
precision is extremely important. Missing a channel by more than is
intended probably has a lower tolerance threshold than the other
functions.

If we were to ignore the precision aspect of changing channels, then
other things need to be modified in order to improve the experience,
like the time necessary to tune into a station. My general experience
is that flatpanels and HDTVs seem to be slower to respond to changing
channels than their old analog counterparts. If this is the case,
then while the input control may have been improved, general
experience won't be due to performance reasons.

Sony had done something similar for some of their devices. It was
used in a variety of ways, but I can't think of a Sony remote that
ever used it for channel selection. It was on digital cameras, video
cameras and on their PDA... on my old Clie, I don't ever remember
using it...

There might be some resistance to using this input device because
"people are used to" standardized input interfaces. Unless they're
forced to use a single selection methodology, it might be difficult to
increase its acceptance.

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6 Jan 2009 - 11:05pm
paul neervoort
2009

As to the RC issue from actuial experience with Philips
(yes I am part of the crime)

Indeed the truth is simple there are three factors in play:
1 costs are ruling decisions.
The wheel is 10x more expensive than 2 buttons. And the majority of
the consumers are not willing to pay more in the shop, no matter what
they answer in surveys.
(yes I am aware of all the research and we use it all the time in our
arguments)

2 the issue is not an issue in Europe and quite a few countries
elsewhere in the world where they can re-arrange channels into
presets where typical users make their list of favorite 10 channels
or so and they are all numbered 1 to 10. Hence brands focussed on a
global market will put the channel hopping issue lower on the list of
priorities.

3 time to market prioritization
Unlike what is suggested the teams do talk in our organization ad we
are aligned. Often time to market is an issue. As suggested above
brands must bring out new products at regular intervals. Main
problems and bug fixes are given priority. Picture quality and
reception are the main differentiators on the shop floor so they get
priority. And the changes to SW to get such a rotary behavior are not
trivial.

To re-assure you all it is not that 'we' did not think about it.

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10 Jan 2009 - 8:57am
Jim Hoekema
2004

I can attest to the truth of Peter's comment:

This isn't laziness as  
> such, but a combination of:
> - siloed organizations
> - risk aversion
> The Philips TV is a good example, because I can pretty much guarantee  
> that the designers of the TV software, TV hardware, and the remote  
> control were in different teams, and coordinating their work was  
> nearly impossible.

When I was working on the UI for first Philips digital TVs, I once
tried to persuade the folks in charge of labeling to inputs on the
back of the set to coordinate the naming and arrangement with our team
doing the on-screen UI and remote. The response was, and I quote:
"This isn't the UI. This is the back panel!"

- Jim

10 Jan 2009 - 12:11pm
DampeS8N
2008

See, this is one of the issues with big conversation on IxDA.
EVENTUALLY, The people responsible for the actual examples are going
to pop up and destroy all hope of retaining the example as a
metaphor.

Paul, Jim, If either of you thought to include the optometrist
selection of TV settings. Kudos.

My only real annoyance with my Philips TV is the lack of an aspect
ratio button. With the often-wrong prediction of how I want to view
my TV, I want an override. And there seem to be un-mapped
red-blue-green-yellow buttons. outside the menu So maybe next-time
you include it? Or maybe my TV is just bobo.

I wanted to ground my example in something easy to think about and
easy to understand instantly. And it did a good job.

But what accounts for the same -kinds- of mistakes in the web world.
Where the costs of these things are microscopic?

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8 Jan 2009 - 6:04pm
Casey Edgeton
2008

Not exactly what you were looking for, but here is a new take on the remote.
They removed the numbers and put in a touch pad.

http://www.engadget.com/2009/01/08/echostars-new-dvr-ui-kills-the-number-pad-is-dead-long-live-th/

9 Jan 2009 - 10:56pm
Casey Edgeton
2008

For some reason it didn't go through the first time I sent it...

This isn't exactly what you were looking for, but it is a new take
on remotes. They removed the numbers and put in a touch pad.

http://www.engadget.com/2009/01/08/echostars-new-dvr-ui-kills-the-number-pad-is-dead-long-live-th/

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10 Jan 2009 - 11:41pm
AlinutzaV
2009

Talking about what people are used to. Have you seen the latest Apple
laptop?

It has no keyboard whatsoever. Just a giant wheel

Here you can see it in action
http://user-experience.iterating.net/2009/01/apple-launches-laptop-no-keyboard/

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14 Jan 2009 - 7:58pm
Angel Marquez
2008

I totally have one. It s*cks. Email me if you want to buy it for less than
half retail.

On Sat, Jan 10, 2009 at 8:41 PM, AlinutzaV <alina at iterating.net> wrote:

> Talking about what people are used to. Have you seen the latest Apple
> laptop?
>
> It has no keyboard whatsoever. Just a giant wheel
>
> Here you can see it in action
>
> http://user-experience.iterating.net/2009/01/apple-launches-laptop-no-keyboard/
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=36646
>
>
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