Panic call from an 87 year old relative of mine last week – the TV had stopped working! For 87 she is pretty hale and hearty, she lives independently, drives, goes out walking the dog each day and attends lots of WI, Probus and U3A events so she is not stupid – indeed probably well above average for her age. However the TV had beaten her.
I popped round to try and sort the problem. She was complaining that when she pressed the usual button on her remote control nothing happened. After a few minutes of playing it became apparent there was not a problem but she had managed to switch to ‘TV mode’ rather than stay in her normal ‘Recorder’ mode: she has a TV and recorder as separate boxes – so her normal ‘recorder’ buttons were inoperative.
The remote control is extraordinary in its degree of complexity. It has about 40 buttons half of which I don’t know what they do: my relative uses about 6 of them – all with their own little icons, most of which are unintelligible.
So I tried to explain to her that even though she was looking at the TV, the channel was coming from the recorder box not the TV (although there was a tuner in both the recorder box and the TV and she could switch between them if she wanted). You can see the problem, the more I tried to explain, the more confused she got. All I was doing was to make her feel inadequate.
So what is going on here? Who designs these things? Do they bother to find out if anybody wants or uses any of these functions? If there is a need for all these functions, why not layer them and hide the more advanced ones? This is surely a case of engineers adding things because they can with no user testing with ‘real’ people like my relative!
There is a great recent article by Nielson Norman Group arguing that the Distribution of Users’ Computer Skills: Worse Than You Think. A recent international research study across 33 rich countries showed that only 5% of the population has high computer-related abilities, and only a third of people can complete medium-complexity tasks! So my relative is quite 'normal'
So the moral is test with users, test with users and test with users again!
Anyway this has given me a great idea for a Christmas present - I have just bought her a ‘’One For All’ Big Button TV Zapper’ which looks positively minimalist with only 15 buttons! Let’s see if that does the job…