So I bought a new alarm clock yesterday (old one was busted) and I though to myself, “hey. Instead of getting another one of those standard black alarm clocks, why not get something fancy”?
One short trip to Wal-Mart later, and Behold!
Minimalist design in all its glory! Brushed aluminum with a mirror-like clock face. A futuristic dream.
5-minutes out of the box, and you know what i realize?? I Hate the goddamn thing. Here’s why:
I’m used to crappy old alarm clocks. Ones with basic functionality, but are easy to use. They’re black, they have a red LED display, an alarm, a big snooze, and some radio controls. Philips has created the beautiful alarm clock with an MP3 jack, and two separate alarms. However, their fault is in focusing on aesthetic design, and pure functionality. Behind the slick exterior lies a mash of complex buttons (I mean literally behind the display). I could go and list the usability barriers one by one, but i think describing a scenario with structured tasks would help paint this picture much more effectively.
Scenario: Setting your alarm clock.
12:00 am. Excited with your brand new (and shiny) clock radio, you decide to set your alarm for the next morning. Examining the unit, you find 2 buttons and 3 multi-modal dials on the left side to help you with just that. On the other side, you find the standard tune, AM/FM, and Volume. You locate Alarm 1, and set it to Radio (because the buzzing scares the shit out of you). There is another dial, you set it to “set Al 1″. The display now shows 12:00 and a bell symbol. So far so good. You press the “up” button to set the alarm. Whoa! it moves at lightening speeds.. but whoops you overshoot 7am (Its almost impossible to NOT overshoot it). So you press the “down” button. The numbers move like a snail. “Ahh!” you think “thats why up is so fast”. However, you quickly realize that if you set your alarm clock to 10am one day, and want to change it to 7am the next day, these up and down buttons dont help. Down is too slow to reach 7 from 10, and up (albeit fast) takes too long to wrap around the the separate AM and PM numbers to hit 7am. The fact that they have 2 alarms does not solve this issue if you EVER need to change the time you wake up, which for me, is a lot. Annoyed, you forget to put the dial back to “Clock”, and 7:00am is all the the display shows, never changing. If you ever forget to change it back, you’ll never know the correct time, and I guarantee it will trip you up. Finally Alarm’s set, you go to bed.
Scenario: Wake up
7:00 am. The alarm goes off. Way too loud. Groggily, you try to hit snooze. Unfortunately, the alarm clock hides its buttons so well, you cant physically see the damn thing. The button’s not even significantly bigger than the other ones on the top. You feel around, and mash all the buttons until it stops. Finally.
7:10 am. The alarm goes off again. still way too loud. This time you’re more awake, so you try to lower the volume, which again is hidden. This is additionally confounded by the fact that there is a tuner with the exact same type of dial. Instead of lowering the volume, you’re blasted with Axl Rose screaming “sha na na na na na na na na nana…” AHH .. *fumble* *fumble* *fumble*. Snooze.
7:20 am. The alarm goes off again. I guess its time to wake up. What time is it anyways. You look over to the clock face, and wtf?! you cant even read the damn time. The sun’s streaming in through the window and the clock radio does absolutely nothing but reflect it.
10:00 am. You return the alarm clock to walmart.
Let me summarize these deal breakers, in order of importance:
- Complexity of buttons- Once in “set alarm” you must actively return to the clock. It should actively return on its own.
- Cannot read time – clock face too reflective
- Up/Down – ineffective modes of interaction
- Hidden buttons
- Function of buttons are not obvious from a tactile perspective – snooze is not raised or big enough, feels like other buttons. Tuner and volume feel the same.
All together, these usability issues make this clock highly unusable to the average consumer. I’m not going to tell you not to buy it- i’m just going to tell you that imo when looking for alarm clock, ability to use the damn thing is more important than fashion or amount of functionality.
Back to basics: