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

January 15, 2009 6 comments

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