Information Overload, Life and the Remote Control

I was struck by a picture I recently saw floating around on Linkedin. Check it out – no explanation needed:



This was both funny and sad at the same time.

Usability and User Experience is intricately tied to the amount of information presented and how the brain responds when overwhelmed.

When products are built with a balance between function and real world usage frequency, they are cheaper to build, faster to go to market and allows the company to focus on other areas like quality and customer service.

Don’t believe me?


Check out how successful In N’ Out is, a hamburger chain that offers a short basic menu.

For more choices you have to ask them to customize your burger and they will be happy to.

Their focus is more on the experience, freshness of food and customer service rather than a menu a mile long.

Products that are built by incorporating the latest bells and whistles often find that the users real life usage is not what they think it is. In reality, users are only interested in using a few, key features. Take it a step further and the picture above of the remote controls is what happens.

So, how do we build products that are useful and usable while not overwhelming ?

Here are my quick suggestions:

  • Design for the key demographic and the majority of the percentile – if you don’t know what that is, personas might be a good way to find out!
  • Keep basic functions within reach and sized appropriately – (Fitts’s law)
  • Afford advanced functions in a way that does not immediately overwhelm the majority of your users – in other words – keep advanced functions separated either physically or digitally from the basic, high use basic functions
  • Design in context – contextual inquiry is a powerful tool to design, build and test products. Simple visits and observations in the users own environment (in this case the living room) over a period of time and subject users would have played an important role in the design of the remote control

Comments and reactions? Let me know!



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