Home > GUI, Usability > How sleeping through my phone alarm taught me a lesson in software usability

How sleeping through my phone alarm taught me a lesson in software usability

Josh Frankel: How sleeping through my phone alarm taught me a lesson in software usability

January 15th 2008 | Josh Frankel

I did it again last week. I slept through my alarm after accidentally setting the tiny “am” to “pm” on my phone alarm. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has used their phone as an alarm clock.

But why is this situation so familiar?

A user always has goals in mind when they use software. A designer on the other hand, wants to display features. So when I set my alarm, tired and bleary eyed, I’m faced with a lot of display information at every option. My ability to set the alarm for the next morning is complicated by having to deal with every one of these options. I imagine that when this feature was at concept stage the idea was to make it easy to set up multiple, reoccurring alarms.

Software anticipates what a user wants to do, but it is not easily usable unless the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of its use are answered as well. What I really want to do is simply set my alarm to the time of my choice and ignore other alarm options. I could also use some better visual cues to help me distinguish between, AM and PM.

I’ve mocked up a more effective UI, taking into account the compass point navigation used on the phone’s directional pad. Does anyone else have a better idea for a UI redesign? Or, maybe you have a different everyday electronic device with poor usability experience. I am really interested to hear about it.

Phone usability mock up

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Categories: GUI, Usability
  1. January 15, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Nice post. This is why I prefer the 24 hour clock 🙂

  2. January 15, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    Another thing that might help is to ditch the silly AM/PM nonsense. Yeah, right, just after the US goes metric….

  3. jfrankel
    January 16, 2009 at 9:07 am

    @Dmitry and Dave

    I tried the 24hr clock for a while but I was always doing the conversion in my head. For someone with poor math skills, this poses a problem when half asleep.

  4. David Knauer
    January 16, 2009 at 9:33 am

    K.I.S.S. Software “updates” often increase confusion. Don’t try to be all things to all people.

  5. April 19, 2009 at 7:19 am

    Why not implement the functionality irrespective of AM or PM, the Alarm goes off ?

    That would be easier on the UI.

  6. April 20, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    @Kool If it was a one time “quickalarm” idea I could see this working. One major problem is that these phones are setup to handle reoccurring alarms and couldn’t handle going off on whichever 7 o clock is next.

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