Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Forgetfulness of Design

So I've had a little trouble finding an interface I actually liked. I guess I could blame Norman's book The Design of Everyday Things, but it would be rather fruitless of an exercise. So, here's my thoughts on a particular design, probably with a touch of good, that has some flaws found within.

The example I give is that of the locking (and unlocking) system of my 2006 Toyota Corolla CE, a fine vehicle. One problem though! I couldn't intuitively learn the features of it, specifically one that would require me to take numerous extra steps!

As outlined in the photo below, the manual does an excellent job of explaining the features of the locking system. Things like that the doors can be opened while the car is moving but also the lock/unlock features using the keylock. Also more obtuse things, like the directions of unlocking and locking...who decided "forward" and "backward" were good terms to explain the key turning? How about "right" or "left"? Or better yet, which is more intuitive for the action? Who knows...

It's understood that one can lock in one direction and unlock in the other. But what kind of feedback do you get to know that the doors are locked? None—the locking indicator inside the car is out of purview, the sound feedback of it locking or unlocking is indistinguishable between either and so the user must resort to the task of pulling on the door handle of the door just locked, usually the driver-side door. You are then on your own to know if the other doors have locked. How about when this is on a dark night? Is there any afforandance to this? No, you're just out of luck.

It's a given to expect for the user to have a little trouble in getting the system down as the designer's intended, but there is also the case of how many doors do each door unlock. So, how many do they unlock? Well, the rear doors intuitively don't unlock any. That's a given since they don't have keyholes to begin with! But the front two doors have more than meets the eye.

The feature given is to either lock one door or two. But how does the user know that? With the passenger-side front door, the user can easily notice it opens two. Aah! Easier actions, two people can enter the vehicle. But if the driver unlocks their door first, then they're in for a surprise. It only opens the driver door, nothing more. Maybe this is a safety feature (for those dark nights), but what recompense does the user have in way of opening the other doors? Little, except to open the driver-side door and use the power locks to unlock the others (or do so manually).

That's all unless the user digs deep down in the nice glossy 50-plus-page owner's manual to find the section on unlocking doors. Ah hah! There is another way after all! Two turns in the unlock direction gives you the secret password to opening the doors. "Open, Simsim," indeed!


  1. that manual page is something else. maybe it should read "lefty loosy righty tighty"? :-)

  2. I suppose it's good that they provided the diagram. I've just learned which way is which so I operate it more subconciously than before.