When Design Flops

May 30, 2012

I recently took a long, overnight, intercontinental plane ride. The airline was KLM, whose service actually impressed me with its quality and friendliness.

However, I believe that the person who designed the remote control for the seatback TV screens either

  1. Hates people.
  2. Has never taken a red-eye.
  3. Flunked (or should have flunked) usability design school.
  4. All of the above.

A picture of the remote control can be viewed here (scroll down).

See the little D-pad at the top? The tiny little ball in the middle is the equivalent of the Enter key. If your fingers are any larger than a 3-year-old's, it's almost impossible to press that ball without also pressing a directional arrow. This meant that when scrolling through menus, I often had to try 5 times before the system actually settled on the menu item I was really trying to access, since the arrow would move the cursor before the system received the Enter signal.

What's not visible in the picture is that the remote, when stored away, is embedded in the seat armrest. Granted, volume and lighting controls are often embedded in plane armrests. But this remote controls your screen, and is not flush or recessed: the buttons stick out a bit. On a red-eye flight, this turns your remote into an inadvertent alarm clock. To whit: turn off your screen completely. Close your eyes. Try to sleep. Shift your hips to get comfortable. Accidentally nudge the remote. Screen turns on, glaring brightness straight into your eyes. Turn screen off. Close eyes. Try to sleep. Adjust elbows. Accidentally nudge remote again. GAH! BRIGHT LIGHT! I AM AWAKE AGAIN....

That remote turned an otherwise relatively smooth flying experience with KLM into an annoying series of jarring irritations. Having just read the Steve Jobs biography, I had design on the mind. This remote is an example of an exceedingly unfriendly design, because it simply doesn't take into account how people's bodies are built, and how and under what circumstances they will be using the product.

KLM, I like you. You should seriously consider upgrading that remote.

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