Sunday, June 18, 2006

Bad Usability: Brookstone Bedroom Clock

When you spend time designing things, it's easy to become a Critique Monster(tm). That is to say, everything non-natural becomes an object of scrutiny, as one critiques why a particular design is (or isn't) so. While I try to keep this to a minimum, sometimes design and usability issues are so blatant that I can't help myself.

Enter the Brookstone 5-in-1 Sensor Clock. It's an attractive little clock/calendar/alarm/thermometer/timer that we've been using the past few days for its alarm feature. The front of the clock is all display and housing. The back of the clock offers the following:
  • Mode Lock (on/off) - slider switch
  • Sensor (on/off) - slider switch
  • Mode - pushbutton
  • Set - pushbutton
  • Up arrow - pushbutton
  • Down arrow - pushbutton

A "mode" is effectively one of the five features of the clock. The sensor allows you to switch modes by waving your hand over the device, as does the Mode button. The Set button, along with the up and down arrow buttons, allows you to set things like the time.

So, we flipped to the Alarm mode, pressed Set, set the hours, pressed Set, set the minutes, and finally pressed Set again. The alarm was set, and a little alarm clock icon appeared in the upper-left of the display to indicate that the alarm was enabled.

Now, after a few days, we noticed that the alarm was recurring each day at the preset time. Makes sense, especially given that the little alarm clock icon was still there. So, we set out to disable the alarm.

Now, the question: how do you do it?

We tried the following, all to no avail:

  • Cycled through "Set" while in the Alarm mode
  • Set the hours and the minutes again on the Alarm
  • Pressed and held Set
  • Pressed and held Set and Mode together
  • Pressed the up arrow while in Alarm mode
  • Pressed the down arrow while in Alarm mode
  • Tried the above with the Mode switch and the Sensor switch set to both positions.

So, what's the answer? A quick flip to the manual for the clock revealed it. You have to press and hold the up arrow while in Alarm mode to enable the alarm, and press and hold the down arrow while in Alarm mode to disable the alarm. Setting the alarm automatically enables the alarm.

What's wrong with this picture? There was absolutely no UI, message, indicator, report, sound, warning, or other method of communicating this information to the user. And we're not talking lack of UI for an edge-case scenario here. Enabling and disabling the alarm is probably one of the most common operations for a little portable clock like this one. To solve the mystery, I had to access Brookstone's web site and browse the manual. If Brookstone didn't have the manual online, I would probably still be stuck.

How did this mistake slip through? In my opinion, I believe the designers here mistakenly assumed that people would read and memorize the manual, to remember this tidbit of information. In reality, most people throw away the manual, throw the clock in the luggage, and go on their way. I bet there's an army of little 5-in-1 Brookstone clocks out there that people are resetting by pulling the batteries out or by inserting a paper clip in the Reset switch, because of this mistake.

This clock served as a reminder to me for one of the most basic design tenets: stay firmly anchored to the users and scenarios you're designing for, and keep prototypes of your design in front of real users' eyes to get honest feedback.

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I was about to "fix" the problem with an icepick and a hammer.

George said...

You're welcome! Glad I could help at least one person who was as stumped as I was. :)

Francine said...

Thanks so much for posting the manual because you know I threw it away !!! and I was trying to disable the alarm before it woke me up in the middle of the night one more time.

Tot said...

ME TOO!! I'm glad I found this site. Now I can disable the alarm, instead of setting it for a time during the day when it didn't matter for it to go off when I wasn't using it!

Anonymous said...

AHA - I did all of the things you said. I swear the manual was right where I needed it until I needed it.
I followed your instructions and now will have to wait till morning to see if the alarm is turned off.
Thanks!

DP said...

Yeah. I was going to try that next. :)

Anonymous said...

any idea why the display flashes every 5 seconds? I can't get it to stop!

George said...

No, sorry, I don't. I admit that since experiencing the usability problem that I describe above, I gave up using the clock.

Jocko said...

God, I love the internet. This thing was driving me insane and I couldn't find the manual (at home or on Brookstone's site). Next stop was about to be the garbage compactor.

George said...

Glad to have helped. It looks like Brookstone has discontinued this little gem of a clock. At least, the link I provided in the post doesn't work anymore. Oh well.

Diana said...

you are a superstar!!!
I needed this info so bad!!! -
I love you for posting this article!!

Jessica said...

grateful person number 10 who can finally get some rest.

Scott said...

Much thanks! After having this thing for over a year and a half, I can finally turn the alarm off on the weekends!!! And for the much needed link to the manual.

Anonymous said...

Thank you soo much for the infomation. I've been trying to turn off the alarm for months now!

Sam E. said...

Thanks for that!

a) I could not find the manual

b) My other half believes it is always the fault of the user who should refer to the manual and never the fault of the designer.

Good to know others feel that UI designers have an obligation to advertise functionality as part of the UI itself

Anonymous said...

ditto - was about to remove the battery until i googled (in bed) for the solution. thx to you i didn't have to. And yes, terrible ui on brookstone's clock for the post-manual user!

AzwinLam said...

BRAVO, THIS is the except reason google exists. i had to google the solution.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone help with changing the clock from Celsius to Farrenheit?

Franklin said...

Thanks for posting the solution. I came across this clock given away free and couldn't figure out how to turn off the alarm till I Googled and found this blog post!

Anonymous said...

You saved my A$$ thank you!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting how to turn off the alarm. We could not figure it out and it was not on the Brookstone website. Now we can put the batteries back in!

Anonymous said...

I came across this clock, without batteries, about a month ago in a thrift store at a price of 69-99 cents. Once the batteries were installed, it worked great. I was able to guess how all of the functions worked, except how to turn off the alarm. Since the alarm woke me up at 5:30 am today, when I had intended to sleep until 9:00 am, I could no longer postpone finding the solution. I searched in Google and found your website. Thanks, what a great service you have provided!

Anonymous said...

Thank you ! Thank you! Thank you!

Nick said...

thanks! I was experiencing the same problem!

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I couldn't find a manual online. I couldn't figure out the alarm the last time I turned it on either

triple_lei said...

Did anyone save the PDF manual?

And thanks, btw.

Katie said...

Thank you sooooo much for this post. I recently bought this item on eBay for the bargain price of $4.00 (without the manual)and was able to set all the modes without too much trouble. All was well until 12AM rolled around and the alarm would go off, every night. My problem is now solved and I can enjoy my bargain. Thank you again, so wonderful how you have helped so many.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the info!! I was having so much trouble trying to turn off that alarm!

Anonymous said...

Brookstone sent me a PDF manual attached to their answer. It is titled:
492116 - Five in 1 Sensor Clock instr.pdf
Assume I am not able to attach it for your files. Came in answer to an inquiry to Brookstone yesterday as I was unable to locate on their website. Tried to find an internet link to it but unable. Maybe you can. A PDF manual does exist. Thank God!!

Anonymous said...

Finally found the printed manual that came with this clock. You can change from Celsius to Fahrenheit by pressing UP or DOWN while in the Temperature screen. Same for switching from 12 or 24-hour (military) time while in the Time screen.

Julie said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! We've been trying to turn the alarm off for a month! :)

Melanie said...

Wonderful, thank you. This was my brothers alarm clock and it reminds me of him so I didn't want to get rid of it. Thank you so much.

Anonymous said...

Thanks a million. Just cemented this piece of info into one of the remaining crevaces in my brain. :-)

Anonymous said...

I wrote notes about disable / enable in magic market on the inside of the battery cover for future reference. Thanks for the tip!

jlw said...

Thank you! I've had this forever & just used for the first time 2 nites ago. And got woken up again & again. Realized I wasn't disabling it. Went to the net not expecting to find help. Yay!