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Microwave Oven UI Standard Project

Published 2009-08-15 17:43
Microwave Oven User Interface Diagram

Microwave Ovens: Failure is not an option.

In our household if the microwave breaks down, I have less than 24 hours to relieve the crisis. And by 24 hours I mean 24 minutes. Kiefer Sutherland has (or had—I have no idea) a whole television season to work things out. I have no such luxury (nor budget). Our kitchen/meal-making workflow keeps three boys and two adults ready for action every day. It's kind of a big deal.

Here's the problem. I don't need a 42-button cockpit control panel just to heat food and beverage. I want to see two dials. That's right, no buttons, just two large, easy-grip dials. Power and Time. Really? YES. Leave the worst of the worst to pure software, thank you.

The diagram at the top of this post is a shot across the bow of the microwave oven product design and manufacturing frigate. *the sound of a pee-shooter pellet plinking against a steel hull*

This 2-dial diagram is my rather rustic (i.e. pathetic) rendering of a microwave user interface (UI) concept. Many a kindergarten student could draw something superior to my sketch, but here's the point: This ubiquitous home appliance needs a consistent, familiar face to interact with.

In today's world, when I walk up to one at work, or Aunt Betty's house, or a school, a hospital—you name it, they're everywhere—I know I'm about to be reduced to an idiot pressing buttons in random formation.

Is it digits + power + digits + start?
Or digits + power~power~power + start?
Or maybe time + digits + (power optional) + start?


Maybe it's just me.

Where to go from here?

  1. Standardization: Every standards compliant microwave oven features common UI (the 2-Dials or whatever the ultimate design is).
  2. Customization: Add all the secondary features (set time, cooking programs, etc) you wish to meet product line/model goals, but don't infringe upon the standard, prominent Time/Power UI.
  3. Dialog: Get the appliance end users talking about points 1) and 2) with industrial designers and manufacturers, their reps, their rep's lawyers and their lawyer's lawyers—don't leave anyone out, and stir things up. VCRs are finally dying out and taking the "blinking >12:00<" debacle to its shallow grave. The Microwave is not a lost cause, but if we wait for expensive, next generation touchscreen models to roll out into the mainstream, it will be too late. The shiny new things will be, predictably, overly complicated and each brand-component partnership will design it be impressive as a store demo (i.e. virtual/real button bloat and focusing on how many pie chart shaped whirling LED activity indicators are present).

So maybe the iPhone quickly becomes the snap-in UI faceplate to your breadmaker, blender and yes, microwave, and indie Mac developers sell you a no-nonsense interface from the App Store for $0.99. But this won't happen to the low-end models which are the ones you mostly see outside your own abode. High tech fantasies won't help here (do they ever?). Although, while we're on the topic, the iPhone-can-plug-into-anything ruminations were, joke or not, well under way over a year ago (*waves to Matt* <— with a simple little invite I could make that a Google wave, hint hint).

Dream Come True

The dream, the vision even, is you step up to a microwave at a friend's house, a cafeteria, a dormitory, the office lunch room, you reach for the standards-based common UI and operate it by muscle memory. Wait for your piping hot morsels. Done. Microwaves for human beings.

So, take the diagram and clean it up, improve it; or crumple it up, shoot for three points and share a completely different design that is the definition of simplicity and effectiveness. Or wordify your thoughts: write a comment here or an entire blog post of your own; leverage those internet-borne social media networks (Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed Facebook) and join a wider conversation.

I won't rest until the Microwave Oven UI Standard (MOUIS) Project is fully baked. But I need your help.

I'm not worried about the realization of Skynet, you know, the total domination by autonomous machines. I'll just be devastated that the robot overlords will think our microwave contraptions were designed for them, and not for us.