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08th of Jan. 2010

Too Many Buttons

By Yaron Schoen


Related links that inspired or helped me create this article.

Us web-designers work very hard to make websites easier and more intuitive for our users.  We spend countless hours user testing, wireframing, prototyping and going through revision after revision. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many of the large TV / DVD companies. It seems they don’t really care about user experience and figure that the only criteria for me to buy their products is the sharpness of the video quality.  Granted, that is a major factor in the decision, but if you need a 94-page manual to get to know your Blue-ray player, including a 5-page explanation on how to connect and use an iPod adapter, then there is something fundamentally wrong with the product.

Buttons Galore

Recently I purchased a Samsung Blue-ray player.  A present to myself, for all my hard work… I figured that buying the player from the same manufacturer as my TV would make it easier to work the two.  Boy was I wrong.  For two products created by the same company, they seem to have serious difficulties operating symbiotically.  Not to mention the amount of completely redundant remote buttons, probably put there just to make one remote look like the other and confuse the user ever further… Having a seemingly simple product make me feel like my mom feels about social networking (confused) is not what I like to call usability. 

Show Us How It’s Done

There is a reason why people love Apple products.  Though they come with a manual, it seems to stay in the box, simply because it is not needed. You hook the thing to the wall, put it on your desk and start working. It’s that simple. Apple should focus, right after they get their iSlate done with, on a TV system. Apple TV isn’t enough. I want Apple to create a 40” TV with Blue-ray built in. And while they are at it, why not add Safari, email and Skype action to it. Heck, maybe even have an app on the iPhone that can be a remote for the TV.  Just look their sexy Apple TV remote - they are doing it right. You really only need 5 or 6 buttons, and all the other buttons and functionality are put into a menu. Why do we need a blue/green/yellow button? “To activate this option click on the green button”... please, it is 2010 lets get it right.

Comments (16)

So what do you think? The world wants to know!

January 10, 2010

Every since I can remember, TV remotes have been this complex, so most companies are probably not forced to innovate on this side. Maybe with more TV going online, devices becoming more connected, etc, there will finally be more emphasis on the TV providing more than a passive video-display experience. I assume that those companies are too hardware focused to be able to create a harmony between hardware and software.

January 13, 2010

It’s cheaper to make a complicated remote control than to code a menu in an embedded system that displays on TV and works like it should. After all, with the remote control, all you have to do is program the system to react to an unique code, nothing more.

Also, with a remote control with a lot of buttons, you can simply press all of ‘m to see whether they’re doing what you want. With an on-screen menu, you run into the issue of discoverability of the options.

On the other hand, with proper usability testing (again expensive) and good programmers for the menu, and most important of all - good localization and translation - you can simplify a lot of tasks and reduce the button clutter to one-third. Then again, that costs quite a bit - and with more features comes more testing, so…

Yaron Schoen
January 15, 2010

@ Rob, you bring up an interesting point. It does cost a lot of money to create a TV menu system. Coming from a company that actually took part in creating that very system for a large cable company, I have seen what it takes to create something like that. I will tell you, there is a lot of work that goes into it.

That said, I do not believe it cost a significant amount more to create a system that works well.  Translating / user testing / localization, are all things that are done anyway. In my opinion, there are other issues that may influence the product, such as:

A. How the company operates. Are there too many executive decisions or cooks in the kitchen? Or do they promote a flat environment that pushes for quality products.

B. Does the company hire the right talent to create a menu that is simple, or do they leave it up to the same people that created the wiring.

Money is not to blame. Look at the iPhone and their competitors. Millions if not Billions are poured into creating an iPhone killer, one that would function as nice and easy as the iPhone, but not one company was yest successful even though the amount of money that was poured.

One last note is that the funny thing with my TV and Blu-Ray is that they do have a very extensive menu already. So basically you have a very messy remote with tons of buttons, but then you also have a very messy menu with many levels of navigation to get lost in.

February 04, 2010

Samsung have actually been heading down the right track recently. A lot of their higher end stuff has been coming with a thing they call the pebble remote. It’s just a very basic version of the original. I’ve got one and I’ve only used the big one twice. Once when I got the TV and hadn’t spotted the pebble, and once to set the screen settings up properly.

Matt M.
February 04, 2010

It seems that it would be more appropriate from the company’s standpoint to create the best user experience possible for those using their products, rather than aim for the highest profit. Implementing an on-screen system would allow the TV manufacturer to have that same, user friendly system on all their TVs and would allow the consumers to become familiar with not only their TV quality, but their usability.

February 05, 2010

Matt, highest profit is the ultimate goal of a successful business, but the point I think you’re trying to make is that the two directions (best user experience vs. highest profit) are not mutually exclusive of one another.  To paraphrase your post: focusing more in the near-term on usability and product design (esp. remote controls) hopefully will lead to brand recognition, customer loyalty, and, you guessed it: highest profit.

February 11, 2010

Come on—seriously? More buttons means more awesomeness. And if you (not the author specifically) can’t figure it out, then tough shit.

Joking obviously, this is spot on. There must be some reason for a lot of buttons, but as Apple continually shows us, there HAS to be a better way to present these options. My guess is there is less development time and effort to make a shitload of buttons, rather than a sleek, simple layout that can do the same thing. Or, they just don’t care about the users.

Andrew Byrne
March 31, 2010

This is a very funny video for all who are frustrated with technolagy. Especially the home entertainment market which seems to be rubbing sticks togeather while computer base tech companys are using hover cars…


April 14, 2010

This is really funny, we have all 3 of the above remotes at our house :) well when these companies do not follow principles of user centric design this is what you should expect.

April 17, 2010

Just this evening my roommate and I were debating the validity of “buttons galore” on our cable remote (same as pictured in your top “banner” graphic). She was frantically trying to stop an on demand playback and couldn’t easily spot the button. We proceeded to sketch out our idea of a design/usability overhaul. Unfortunately, I think our purchasing decisions for TV / DVD / DVR devices are, as you said, devoid of any consideration of the remote. And the TV / DVD / DVR people know it.

Interestingly, (to me anyway) I have an older model RCA TV in my bedroom (early-mid 90s) with few buttons and a robust on-screen menu. So perhaps the industry has gone backwards? Or we expect our remotes to perform more functions? Granted, this is for a TV only - no VCR / DVD / DVR action of any kind.

May 04, 2010

Not only the amount of buttons per remote, but also the amount of remotes per room that seem neccesary. A remote for… the TV, DVD-recorder, external digital tuner, hifi-set, surround-amp, and home-automation. All of them laying on the table because each of them need daily attention.

*Good* universal remotes are expensive, and for most people do not replace all the remotes, but rather add another one, simply because programming universal remotes is way too difficult.

But when it comes to a single remote, a remote to a device that has display (like a TV, or something connected to a TV) needs nothing more than a few core-buttons (like arrow keys, enter, back) and device-specific “quick access” functions like “program up/down”, “volume up/down”, number keys and “select source”.

All the rest is either superfluous or redundant. Advanced stuff goes in a menu.

Darcy McGee
May 04, 2010

Apple’s remote is simple but hardly offers the functionality that a Blu-Ray player offers. It could be argued that it’s over simple: they lean on the menu key a bit too much. (This is especially true when watching a DVD.)

Andy Croll
May 05, 2010

Hey, I actually wrote a long and impassioned rant on ‘what I want from a TV’. It’s certainly along similar lines to what you were after.


Now to somehow shake the entire TV manufacturing industry by the shoulders!

Erik Kambestad Veland
May 05, 2010

This is why I have not owned a TV or stereo system for a decade now. It has all been replaced with a single iMac running a single remote for everything: The extremely few buttoned Apple Remote. Or if I want to run the wireless music setup (same iMac) blanketing our whole house and back deck: The remote app on the iPhone.

Joseph Schmitt
May 05, 2010

Or maybe we just get rid of the remote all together http://www.xbox.com/en-US/live/projectnatal/

February 14, 2012

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