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.