The other day I decided to set up two relatively common household products: (1) a wireless router and (2) a portable steamer. The instruction manuals and the resulting experiences of each setup couldn’t have been more different. Can you guess which required more energy, brain power and patience?
Ding ding ding ding ding! It was the steamer!
Why did setting up an appliance with mechanical engineering akin to a kitchen kettle feel like preparing a space shuttle launch…while a device manufactured by a cable company took five minutes with zero aggravation or ambiguity? The answer: User Experience design.
Good UX: The Router Setup
Setting up routers used to involve sitting on the phone with the cable company and wishing it was somebody else’s job. Now it’s as simple as flipping open a glossy, single-page pamphlet and following clear, colorful diagrams placed alongside highly legible text.
There was even some witty Easter Egg copy as if a real human being wrote it and not just a systems engineer:
Relax? No problem! In fact, when the blinking lights stopped flashing after just two minutes, I felt like a technical genius.
Bad UX: The Steamer
The steamer was another story. A list of 14 steps with essentially no visual hierarchy made it nearly impossible to skim for the most important information: how to avoid burning yourself. In fact, this nugget is all the way at the bottom of list item 13, below a mountainous, monotonous section of text. “The water in the reservoir can severely burn skin.”
The visual aid stresses the importance of moving the steamer up and down. This doesn’t seem like the most important and/or complicated piece of information for a user to grasp.
Here’s how I would have written this information:
Before You Begin:
- DO NOT fill with water past the max line.
- DO NOT tilt the steamer back and forth or water will drip out.
- Use an up-down motion, not too long in the same spot.
- When you’re done OR need a refill, unplug.
- Wait 5 minutes after unplugging for unit to cool before handling.
STEP 1: Fill steamer with water.
- Twist reservoir cap clockwise to open.
- Add tap water up to the maximum line. Do not overfill.
- Replace reservoir cap and twist counter-clockwise to close.
STEP 2: Turn on device.
- Plug device into power outlet and press ON.
- When on, the switch will light up.
- Wait 2-3 minutes for unit to heat up.
Step 3: Steam clothing.
- Always keep unit in an upright position.
- Point steam holes at wrinkled fabric. Move steamer in an up-down direction.
- For best results, pull fabric firmly in place while steaming.
Step 4: Unplug and allow to cool before handling.
- Even after turned off, any water inside the unit will remain boiling hot.
- Wait 5 minutes before handling.
- Once cool, empty excess water and replace cap.
- Store in a cool, dry place.
People who buy portable steamers value convenience. It should be easier to assemble. My revision lists key safety concerns at the top followed by a logical order of steps, told in fewer words.
If Apple can bring computers to the masses, and Fios makes it painless to set up routers, manufacturers of household appliances have no excuses for dated, poor user experiences.
Get it together! (pun intended)