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Empathy in Design: Is this the best-designed remote control...ever?

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Nearly 20 years after it was first designed, one remote control stands out among all the rest. Find out how its designers applied design thinking and empathy for users in order to create this award-winning physical interface, a classic of user experience design.

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Empathy in Design: Is this the best-designed remote control...ever?

  1. 1. EMPATHY IN DESIGN: Is this the best-designed remote control…ever? http://jamesarcher.me
  2. 2. http://jamesarcher.me This is the CyberHome DVD remote, the worst dang piece of crap remote control I’ve ever used. Every button on it feels exactly the same. There’s almost no distinction between them. Can you imagine trying to use this thing in the dark? (I’m getting frustrated just remembering it…)
  3. 3. http://jamesarcher.me They probably built this to be the cheapest remote possible, and I’m sure they accomplished that, so I can’t blame them too much. However, it’s an example of completely non-empathetic design. Whoever designed it was only solving a technical problem instead of a user problem. And that’s why I still cringe a little every time I see it.
  4. 4. The thing is, people often turn out the lights while enjoying their favorite show. If you’re watching in the dark, you can’t see the buttons. http://jamesarcher.me
  5. 5. Besides, even if you could see the remote, you probably wouldn’t look anyway. Instead of holding it up to your face and pressing buttons with your index finger, you usually feel around with your thumb while pointing it at the TV, right? A well-designed remote should be usable with your eyes closed. http://jamesarcher.me
  6. 6. http://jamesarcher.me Behold… the TiVo remote
  7. 7. http://jamesarcher.me TiVo’s remote control is a fantastic example of empathetic design in action. When TiVo started developing what we now call DVR, they knew the user experience had to extend to the physical remote. They tested foam prototypes until they found a shape that seemed to seemed to click with the test users. They dubbed it the “peanut.”
  8. 8. http://jamesarcher.me They went through countless prototypes, constantly testing and iterating features. Paul Newby, the father of the TiVo remote, described their goal as “key Braille-ability,” or the ability to use the remote as if you were blind. Even in the earliest prototypes, you can see the design thinking that’s present even in their most recent models. Image source: http://gizmodo.com/5017972/story-of-a-peanut-the-tivo- remotes-untold-past-present-and-future
  9. 9. http://jamesarcher.me At the top of the remote, you can see the raised circular area with buttons of varying sizes and shapes around it, each easy to identify by touch.
  10. 10. http://jamesarcher.me The volume and channel buttons, so often identical on modern remotes, are angled different directions to make them more distinctive. No more accidentally changing to ESPN when you’d meant to turn it up during the climax of Pretty Little Liars…
  11. 11. http://jamesarcher.me The center of the remote (where your thumb naturally rests) is home to the most common controls. The pause button—the one you typically need to find the fastest—is given the place of honor in the center. (UX expert Jakob Nielsen described it as “the most beautiful pause button I’ve ever seen.”) Notice each of the control buttons has a unique shape, making it easy to find by feel without looking.
  12. 12. http://jamesarcher.me The numbers at the bottom follow the traditional number-grid format, and have generally the same shape. However, each column of numbers is oriented at a different angle, so you can still get a sense for where you are in the grid. The designers understood that the space between buttons was sometimes as important as the buttons themselves.
  13. 13. http://jamesarcher.me There are countless other details that make this such a great example of design: the “bloody battles” over the number of buttons, the feel of the buttons when pressed, the exact shades and hues of colors used.
  14. 14. http://jamesarcher.me In the end, though, TiVo stuck with the design process and managed to create an award-winning remote that still stands out as brilliant almost 20 years after it was first prototyped.
  15. 15. This remote is a fantastic example of empathetic design in action. When TiVo started developing what we now call DVR, they knew the user experience had to extend to the physical remote. They tested foam prototypes until they found a shape that seemed to seemed to click with the test users. They dubbed it the “peanut.” Interested in design thinking and user experience? There’s more at http://jamesarcher.me
  • ParijatGuha

    Jun. 10, 2021

Nearly 20 years after it was first designed, one remote control stands out among all the rest. Find out how its designers applied design thinking and empathy for users in order to create this award-winning physical interface, a classic of user experience design.

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