Nice article on the design of the Tivo remote controlin tomorrow's Times

19 Feb 2004 - 9:00am
12 years ago
5 replies
664 reads
Dave Malouf

When is someone going to realize that people watch TV w/ dimmed or no lights
on? How often I've been watching a DVD or something off the DVR and I get a
call and I can't find the stupid PAUSE button. Would it kill them to make a
remote that is backlit like a phone touch pad?

Otherwise, I agree w/ Nielly about the FAV button.
What I wanted for a FAV button was something that limited my GUIDE, not
something that went up (you can't go backwards) a shortened chain. Why is
that? Well Ok, I love TV, right? My FAV list turns out to have hmmm? Over
20-50 channels (especially if I add all of my premiums and their variants).

What would be great! Though is saying, make this my fave and then when I go
to the guide to see what's on TV, I can choose to see a filtered list of
channels that only includes my faves. Now that would be cool? Anyone at TW
Cable listening? Hiring? Please?

-- dave


19 Feb 2004 - 9:30am
Dan Saffer

On Thursday, February 19, 2004, at 09:00 AM, David Heller wrote:

> Anyone at TW Cable listening? Hiring? Please?

Don't know about TW, but Tivo's hiring...

User Interface / Interaction Designer, Job # MSUE003

Don't know if you get to redesign the remotes though. :) How come the
on/off button isn't bigger?


19 Feb 2004 - 11:34am
Josh Seiden

Well, I read this article too, and it made me f'ing
crazy! Although the meta-conversation is about how
remote controls are too complex, the article spends all
its time talking about a process that results in the

Now, admittedly, the Tivo remote is one of the best
I've seen. It's clear, and relatively simple. But it is
also an example of the limits of the current remote
control paradigm--lots of buttons, no device smarts.
Furthermore, the article unknowingly highlights the
limits of a form-based process to solve the problems
inherent to interacting with a software-based system.

To wit: "The shape of the remote - the subtlety of how
it feels in the hand - was Mr. Newby's first major
design consideration. "

And to add insult to injury, our own esteemed Mr.
Nielsen weighs in with some (literally) superficial
observations. Low contrast? Confusing labels? Give me a
break! The problem with remote controls is that they
have TOO MANY BUTTONS. Hello? The Tivo remote gets it
down to... 30!

How about some new approaches? What if you improve the
behavior of the device in order to reduce button count?
This is where interaction design can help.

Some fast (early, ugly, often ;-) examples:
* How about a channel rocker switch with two detents?
Press lightly to go to the next channel. Press to the
second detent to go to the next favorite. Detect
favorites by monitoring viewing patterns. Allow manual
marking of favorites by holding down the channel
selector for 3 seconds.

Yes, it's less discoverable, but geeks will discover
it. And only geeks can use the FAV buttons anyway.

* Or what about using gestures instead of buttons? Pick
up the device and give is a sharp flip towards the
ceiling to bring up a transparent menu. Then you point
the device at the corners of the screen. Top right
increments the channel, bottom right decrements. Top
left increases the volume, button left reduces. The
flip motion could also turn the TV on. Give the device
a sharp flip towards the floor to cancel the menu. Add
a mute button, and you're done. A one button remote.


19 Feb 2004 - 2:29pm
Todd Warfel

Too many buttons and they're often not grouped by common tasks.

I have four remotes, but use one primarily:

1 for my Samsung 30" widescreen
1 for my Mitsubishi VCR
1 for my Toshiba DVD
1 for my Onkyo Receiver

Now, the Onkyo is fortunately a learning remote (not universal - it
learns the other remotes signals, which makes it much better). And
fortunately, it's robust enough to handle all the devices mentioned
above. Additionally, it's one of two (the other being the Mits remote)
that is organized in a common sense grouping by task. Don't know why
the others can't get this right. Finally, each section is grouped and
has a different coloured background. So, it's quite easy to use. You
can quickly scan the remote, find the section of interest and focus on

In contrast, my grandmother got a DVD player for Christmas last year
(don't recall the brand) and all the buttons were black, they weren't
subdivided into groups, and none of the most common buttons were
grouped together.

So, being the interaction designer and usability nut that I am, I
remedied the situation. I picked up a bottle of bright red nail polish
and painted the six buttons she'd use most often (e.g. power, play,
stop, ffwd, rwd, enter).

Funny thing is, when I looked at the placement of those buttons, they
were all over the place. Play, ffwd, and rwd weren't even grouped
together. What's the deal with that?

On Feb 19, 2004, at 11:34 AM, Joshua Seiden wrote:

> The problem with remote controls is that they
> have TOO MANY BUTTONS. Hello? The Tivo remote gets it
> down to... 30!


Todd R. Warfel
User Experience Architect
MessageFirst | making products easier to use
Contact Info
voice: (607) 339-9640
email: twarfel at
aim: twarfel at
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.
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19 Feb 2004 - 8:50pm

I have been doing some research into intuitive interfaces using a universal
touch screen remote as a test product because it can be re-configured to
test various designs. That does have a backlight option and you can set the
amount of time you want the backlight to stay on for. You can also program
pretty much any features you want into it although there are some
limitations with re-designing the navigation system to get you around the
remote itself. The product (marantz RC5001, identical to Phillips Pronto)
is also not enormously attractive and is a bit cumbersome and heavy. The
newest ones are an improvement though.

To find out all you ever wanted to know about universal reprogrammable
remotes, and to meet all the geeks you coudl ever need to meet, go to

I also have a cheap AKAI VCR that has a remote with luminous buttons (they
are a similar material to those stars that kids stick on their celilings)
for play, forward and rewind and stop. Never a seen another one with that
feature though.

Thea Blackler
School of Design and Built Environment
Queensland University of Technology
CRICOS No 00213J.

19 Feb 2004 - 6:34pm
Juan Pablo Garcia

I´m totally ignorant on this subject, but seems like the history of the
tool is getting on the way. In the past it was "dumb" electronics, like
a switch to select one station or other. Now it could be much more
"intelligent" and design could be simplified.

One good feature could be to put a touch sensitive screen (like a PDA)
where buttons can be hidden - dragged - color coded - arranged by the
user. If the product is designed starting from use like if it was a
software product, it can be much improved and later hardware can be
adapted to it. It can get as simple as granma needs, and as powerfull
as TV hardcore viewers want.

Will it be economically feasible? Can it be made cheap enough? If a
Palm Zire goes for 50 dollars I think it can be done.



El 19/02/2004, a las 15:42, CD Evans escribió:

> At 9:00 am -0500 19/2/04, David Heller wrote:
>> When is someone going to realize that people watch TV w/ dimmed or no
>> lights
>> on? How often I've been watching a DVD or something off the DVR and I
>> get a
>> call and I can't find the stupid PAUSE button. Would it kill them to
>> make a
>> remote that is backlit like a phone touch pad?
> I've seen backlit remotes here in the Uk. But they were those 'any
> type of machine' ones that likely take a month to set up and never
> really work. Nonetheless they were backlit!
> No idea on the favorites, but I did hear about a company making an
> iPod app that could control a tv. Apple asked them to take it off the
> market, might have been Belkin or Griffin.
> To bluetooth and beyond,
> CD Evans
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