As I was reading this posting, my first (and second and ...) thought was that all of this is just bad marketing/human factor design. I also really wonder if this is, in fact, an example of one of the pitfalls of offshoring.
Let me explain this somewhat incomplete thought. I can easily conjecture that what we have here is a case where the marketing people are in the US and the product design is done overseas (most likely in China). The marketing people, who should be driving the design to be 'user friendly' are much more interested in just getting the 'new thing' done and into production.
I would also suspect that the 'authority' to make changes is probably diffuse and ill defined. So no one person is in control of the product development.
And now we come to the 'offshore' part - the design team is probably offshore - it could even be split - mechanical and electrical in one country (e.g. China) and software in another country (e.g. Russia or India). This leaves the very real possibility that the people doing on the development are non-US and don't really have a good feel for what is needed for 'user' comfort.
So you get a mess.
An example of how this does NOT happen? Apple (or least the way it was) - you had, in many cases, one person - Steve Jobs - who had (and frequently exercised) the authority and power to insist that Apple products met HIS requirements. And, luckily, most of the time, his sense of product design and customer needs was spot on.
I just purchased a Kenmore microwave, and seriously considered the dial version, except that for a "high end" microwave, I was suspicious that one dial could provide sufficient functionality. I purchased a cheaper model with relatively simple touch buttons. But it has no express cook other than "add thirty seconds". My old GE has a better interface despite the magnetron issues, it has had three supplied by GE under warranty. I am tempted to return the Kenmore (still haven't installed it - testing on a microwave table) and order a magnetron from Samsung for the old GE.
The problem with American modern design is that all the MBA's want it so cheap that the engineers are forced to remove all the electro-mechanical switches and dials, and put everything in software. Our Japanese friends still resist this tendency, and of course the Chinese can do whatever they want paying their people a couple dollars a day.
The microwave user interface control design reminds me of my new car stereo. I recently had to replace the factory system. I searched for the simplest replacement I could find that was also affordable.
Unfortunately they were all similar in that department. The one knob that should normally have a volume control function, and maybe an on/off function, had many functions. Push and turn, push and turn, working its way down into the menu system for setting up the unit, adjusting the audio, etc.
My wife tried to turn it off by pushing the knob (as on our factory radios), but found it started doing other things, but did not go off.
We found that you have to push the source button several times to put it into standby. Then the clock time would reappear with the radio off.
Only a programmer on a complexity jag would have dreamed up this UI.
Could it be more than bad user interface with 6-deep menus? It sounds like each microwave use requires at least two, and as many as six, pushes of the knob. Could pushing the knob flex the circuit board behind, and cause your GSOD by a broken trace or solder joint?
The problem with almost all sofware driven appliances is that the code is written by programmers, who clearly are not normal people, nore anywhere close to normal. So the thinking that relates to the functionality is certainly not normal. The only good way to have a single dial microwave oven was with the mechanical timer and a HI-LOW switch, and a start button. Those ones worked easily and depenadably all of the time, until they finally failed and were replaced.
My bad. But even it was based on Windows Embedded, that comes with its own share of problems. Chuck's point about having to navigate that many layers deep for navigation is a good one. A microwave, out of all possible appliances, should be a one or two button operation at best.
@Beth - I didn't get that they actually used Windows. It just behaves in the same manner. Although I wouldn't be surprised if it were Windows embedded - but that should be a lot more stable and not require reboots.
Menus should never be nested five or six layers deep. The user interface sounds like it suffers from the all-too-common design problem of trying to incorporate too many functions. Blaming it all on "dirty power" only makes it worse.
Looks like Kenmore engineers could have benefited from a crash course in user interface design. And the choice of Windows as the software interface stumps me? Seems a bit overbaked for a microwave, not to mention, a surefire way to invite bugs and compatibility problems. Come on, we're talking Windows!
Fifty-six-year-old Pasquale Russo has been doing metalwork for more than 30 years in a tiny southern Italy village. Many craftsmen like him brought with them fabrication skills when they came from the Old World to America.
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