Bad Microwave Controls

My office has recently upgraded the kitchen and it is very nice.

I used the new microwave for the first time today. There are no instructions available and the manual is nowhere to be found, but I thought “who needs a manual to use a microwave”?

The microwave looks very nice- all shiny stainless steel, very few buttons- this machine says “I am a professional, and by association, by using me you too are a professional”:

I am used to Microwaves having a million different ‘helpful’ modes (asking me questions like “Do you wish to clarify ghee?”, “Do you wish to wort yeast?”, “Do you wish to sterilise bread?”) but they all have at least a power option and a time option, and nine times out of ten I set it at the default- 100% power for one minute.

This microwave has a “Power” option, and even though the position of the “more” and “less” buttons was confusing at first, I worked it out:

But in working it out, if you select “less” power (the down arrow) you can’t increase the power back up to 100- it stays at a maximum of “P95″:

Now this is the really stupid part- no power selection. I spent a few frustrating minutes trying to work out how to set the power. There is no power button- why? The “weight defrost” and “time defrost” do work, but you have to set a weight and or time- I don’t want to defrost, I want to reheat. I kept on having to press the “Stop/Clear” button to start again.

The “Auto Cook” button also doesn’t allow you to enter a power setting, but gives you a default “auto reheat” symbol and the option to enter in weight in grams. HOW AM I EXPECTED TO GUESS HOW MUCH SOMETHING WEIGHS? I am reheating last nights dinner for today’s lunch- I don’t know how much it weighs nor do I have a scale handy.

Nothing I pressed could make other icons appear, or even gave me an indication of what they did. In the end selecting 350 grams by trial and error gave me 2 minutes and 20 seconds, so I went with that.

What a terrible set of controls. It’s like a TV that instead of giving you a volume knob, gives you set volume options of “Concert Hall”, “Library”, “Grandstand”, “Beach”- options that don’t really translate to ‘quiet’ and ‘loud’.

Am I missing something or is this the dumbest UI for a microwave ever?

You are spot on my friend!

Unfortunately, more and more product interfaces seem to be falling into the hands of unqualified people. I never understood the arrows next to each other and have to keep fighting to keep them up and down in projects. The other stuff was probably done to cut down on buttons. Not that cost a lot, but it “looks easier”.

Personally, I’ve never found anything that looked easier than a 3x4 set of numbers like a telephone. They are ubiquitous. Why change?

Yeah, you are not alone. Another one of those ‘Lets simplify it’ jobs that actually turns out to be more complicated. Sometimes more buttons isnt a bad thing. On another note, why hasnt anyone built in some sort of scale for the turntable? The reheat/defrost functions are always based on weight, but I dont know anyone that can accurately guess something to the ounce. It would be nice to just select the food type and be done with it. Instead Im left with chicken still frozen in the middle, a band about .5" wide that is defrosted, and the outside cooked to a rubbery material.

Great observations.
I think it’s nice to see some differentiation to eliminate the endless possibilities of the buttons on current microwaves, but in the end fails. I’m sure if you point it back to whomever created the designs it wasn’t fully understood (which I believe you need to completely understand something in order to simplify it) and/or had no user validation or they didn’t listen to it…

Something so minimal on my current lower-end microwave (being a college student!) is that the controls are all the same color, and that Start and Stop/Clear are on opposite sides on the bottom of the keypad. It’s about a 50/50 chance that I actually hit start on the first try. A simple color addition of Green on the Start and Red on the Stop/Clear would remove this error.

I’ve been thinking about bad interfaces on microwaves for a while now. Someday I will actually make it a project. My main thesis is that I don’t need 20 buttons on my microwave. I long for the days of the dial timer and nothing else.

Commercial microwaves have dials.

Why can’t consumer models? Are manufacturers under the impression that the microwave needs 400 buttons and lots of extra do-dads?

What do you use a microwave for? Ever use ANY setting other than 100% power? I only do when defrosting something which I generally try to avoid. Read a microwave popcorn label sometime. Most of them say DON’T use the popcorn button on your microwave…

Exactly NURB. It might be my next for fun project. I have ideas for other appliances too–maybe a small concept collection for fun

There are so many backwards steps that products have taken in the digital age as tangible interfaces have gone virtual. Yesterday, I was touring an older apartment in a San Diego suburb, and I discovered a sweet circular drum dishwasher with a lid that was part of the countertop. When you close the lid, it starts automatically. It didn’t work anymore since they don’t make replacement parts, but appliances have really suffered from digitization IMO, as have so many other products.

Cameron: Part of it is the showroom. That washing machine is great installed, but imagine it next to a new LG that is silver with 120 flashing lights (WOW!). It will look like a lost puppy.

BTW Scott Jenson did a little microwave UI project in his book The Simplicity Shift. Great read. Download here:

you are the victim of a costed-out commodity product.
the interface could’ve been better but the stainless steel is more important to the sale.

Take away the PCB, the popple domes, etc, and you have one mechanical dial. I’d say it’s a wash at worst.

I also contend that while product managers may think people want christmas trees for all their appliances, the users themselves don’t actually want that. At least the days of shelf-system speaker light shows are over…I remember my Sony system kept me up at night sometimes.

The first microwave my family ever owned had a dial for time, two giant buttons ( high power and low power) and a door handle. That is it! Turns out 1985 was the height of interaction design for microwaves! Seems like all the interaction guys are too busy working on apps you don’t really need to want to work on the things that people use everyday like this… :wink:

But I NEED my microwave to post to Twitter and Facebook…

I think the addition of the popcorn button was a great idea. It is the most cooked item that is microwaved. I think the clock was a step back. Just leave the screen blank or something. I haven’t set the clock on my microwave in a couple years, it’s still flashing “12:00”. Complete waste of someone’s time.

Facebook update from Chris: Hi everyone, I just made a frozen burrito! This message sent via GE microwave.

Share your embarrassing health compromises with the world!!!

Nobody at all designed this product! The buyer from Wall Mart or Costco instructed whoever, a price point and a stainless appearance - that’s it. A few months later a factory in China spit it out so your boss could buy it.

:laughing: :laughing: :laughing: :laughing: and sadly some will.

and your health insurance company Posted to all of Cameron’s face book friends. “Hi, Cameron just got a .2% increase in his health insurance premium because of high fat diet, sent via data mining provided by GE appliances.” :laughing: :laughing: :laughing: :laughing:

A Ham Button!

I’ve actually just shopped for all new appliances. Found this same issue. Check out the Ikea microwaves. Actually much nicer than most out there.

Not to get too of topic, but I find very interesting that normally the more “professional” the appliance, the more pure the design is (less flourishes and finishes), and also very often the less features it has. Straight forward knobs, buttons, etc.

Compare a top of the line Viking Range to a low end Whirlpool. Note the pro one has no clock, no display, etc.

Compare a semi-pro espresso maker with a low end one. The semi-pro one has just a few simple button. No clock, shiny details, etc.