Remote Simplicity

Simple, functional, and light as a feather!

Simple, functional, and light as a feather!

Take a look at this device I found in my hotel room in Scranton, PA, the other week. Chances are it doesn’t look like anything you’ve seen in a while.

What appears to be an ancient artifact from another era is in fact a fully-functional television remote control, complete with five (count ‘em, 5!) buttons: Power, Channel, Volume, Mute, and a Menu/Select/OK grab-bag button.  

So why is it appearing here, immortalized in the blogosphere?

Well, in a world dominated by 3-in-1, 45-button remotes, two things stood out about this one. It did what I needed it to do, and it was refreshingly easy to use. A picture of good design.

(Grandma’s doing well, by the way!)

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5 Responses to Remote Simplicity

  1. Noah says:

    what did the actual UI look like? how did you jump from channel 3 to 33? certainly the 800 buttons of today are a bit overkill, but fewer buttons does not always mean easier.

  2. […] or system can do, the less likely it is to have smooth user experience (you know, like complicated remotes, super busy websites, restaurant menus with waaay too many […]

  3. Noah, well, you press ‘CHAN +’ thirty consecutive times. But it’s a good point you bring up. That you can’t skip ahead to channels without accessing a menu is a limitation since its something we’re all so used to. And yes, the on-screen UI is accessed and navigated through pressing combinations of the available few buttons that appear on the remote.

    Fewer buttons definitely does not always mean easier, and I would probably say that this design is at the far other end of the usability/functionality (http://infiniteuser.com/2009/01/12/576/) spectrum from the 12,000 button remotes common these days. The controls are so few that while seeming simple, its usability may actually be impaired because we know it is capable of doing more (which we can only do through dealing with a messy on-screen UI).

    From a user standpoint, I still found it a nice break from the cognitive demands and steep leaning curves involved in using today’s standard digital cable remotes. Maybe I should put it in a new category called “controversy design?”

  4. Noah says:

    Thank you for the reply. I wonder what your take is on the new Apple Shuffle that doesn’t have any buttons on it? To me, Apple is trying to take their “simplicity reputation” too far. They’re designing things like this because they can–not because they’re necessarily useful.

  5. I’d agree, and though I haven’t tried it myself, I recently read this review that concluded the same thing (though he hadn’t used it either): http://www.macworld.com/article/139333/2009/03/ipod_shuffle_design.html. Poor form or not, the review is full of good points about the new Shuffle’s usability shortcomings.

    In a technology world dominated by iPod and Google, minimalism seems to be the current fad. I think the right application of minimalist principles can be very effective — and I’m certainly not against it artistically — but I find too often the user experience is sacrificed at the expense of making technologies look trendy, sleek, and hip. Here’s another thought-provoking example: http://humanfactorsblog.org/2008/09/03/too-minimalist-design/

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