An Engineer in Wonderland – Alice-machine interface

These days, I own a car.

06aug08radioold2.jpgThese days, I own a car.

And as I have a car, I feel the need for Radio 4 and music.

So a year or so ago I replaced the standard worn cassette-radio with a CD-radio (left).

It cost £50ish from Lidl, and its major selling point was that it also played USB sticks and SD cards.

Incidentally, the necessary fitting kits, bought from Halfords, to convert Ford’s non-standard radio orifice to fit a DIN standard radio cost almost as much as the new radio – thanks Ford.

Although on Ford’s side, I do like its radio rear support which takes the weight of the back of the radio by hanging it by a sliding clip from a front-to-back rail mounted above the installation slot.

Anyway, the new CD-radio was excellent. It did all the things it said it would do, and played all the things it said it would play.

 – with a handful of caveats.

A minor one is that it very occasionally had a hiccough – suddenly forgetting its presets or inexplicably starting up in CD mode when it was switched off playing the radio.

And another little problem was that a pixel or two of the OLED display decided not to work.

But the major issue for me was that most of the controls, including the radio presets, were arranged as a single row of 12 tiny identically-shaped identically-spaced buttons.

With a glance, I had no idea which was which.

Having found myself distracted by this ambiguity whilst driving, I stopped operating anything except the easy controls unless I was stationary.

Two weeks ago, Lidl had an updated version for sale – same price, same functions, vastly improved control layout.

So after a couple of deep breaths, I bought one (left).

I was still wondering if I had wasted my money until I had it fitted and turned it on.

What a difference.

The thing, with its paired groups of buttons instead of an even row, is so much easier to use with a glance.

Well done Lidl for an effective interface re-design.


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One comment

  1. This reminds me of the power station explosion at Long Island NY, some years ago.
    The enquiry found that the control panel had several controls laid out in a symetrical manner and the operators had put an empty beer can over one for quick and easy identification.
    Control panel layouts should never be left to electronics engineers as they are -not surprisingly – pre-occupied with how they are going to fit their PCB’s into the enclosure rather than convenience of operation. The designer of the cabinet should be a mechanical engineer with appropriate training in safety matters.

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