Last night, after a long day at work, I decided I deserved a treat. I would make myself something special! Special and sweet! YES! I had a sponge cake with chocolate sauce hidden in my fridge, tucked under a pack of mixed vegetables (to ensure no one finds it), waiting for a special occasion to come. Well, this was the occasion! I found the cake and while I was thinking how nice, warm, spongy and dripping in chocolate it would be in just 30 seconds, I put into the microwave. 3, 0, 0, beep. All set!
30 seconds can be really long when you are waiting for a cake, so I went back to the living room to prepare a movie I was going to watch while indulging in my warming treat. Mmmmm… Cake… I wondered why those 30 seconds felt that long, surely finding the DVD, starting the movie and making yourself comfortable would take longer. More like 3 minutes… Oh!
There was a bit of a funny noise coming from the kitchen, and I wandered in to have a check. A strange black cloud was hovering over the microwave, and a few seconds later the awfully noisy fire alarm started going off. EVACUATION!
They said it was my fault, but I blame the microwave.
Many modern microwaves have features that try to make them more efficient, like special settings for heating pasta, potatoes, noodles, meat. There is everything… Apart from the option you need the most. Sometimes trying to heat something quickly for 30 seconds or a couple of minutes can be really tricky and a little slow:
But technology doesn’t have to be like that.
Other things may go wrong with microwaves too, but designers have been quite clever to try to prevent some of these issues by understanding what people do, what they would like to achieve, and what could go wrong. For example, have you noticed how whenever you open the door a microwave turns itself off? This prevents people from accidentally cooking their fingers when they put them in with the microwave still on. And since the main goal of every hungry person is to grab the food (cake!), that is what they do: they take the food out, without actually paying attention whether it is safe to do so.
The situation is similar with the cash machines: when you are withdrawing money, the machine first returns your card and then gives you money. Have you ever wondered why? When you want to withdraw money that is your main goal, so when the old models used to dispense cash first, people forgot their cards. Once they reached their goal, their attention moved and they would simply forget. That’s why cash machines were redesigned to make sure that there are no additional steps to remember after you get the cash.
Unfortunately, there are still devices that were not designed with people in mind and do not prevent the mistakes. But not all is lost and things can change. And they are changing! (Although it would be nice if they were changing faster.) By understanding how people use technology and why, we can make it better and make sure that silly mistakes like burnt cakes or lost cards won’t happen again.
Technology could be easier to use.