Tuesday, June 11, 2013

When even Radio Shack had Good Design

A friend recently showed me this:

It's a weather radio. Says so right on it, but what I found most interesting is how little else there is. It's a cube. With an antenna and a switch. The switch would have made even more sense in the era in which is was made, as it looks like a tape deck switch in size, shape and action. Flush is neutral, or off, down is on.

That's it. Classical simplicity. Oh, when you get one you need to tune to the local station? Or, adjust the volume? Yes, those are rarely used features so were eliminated due to the size and simplicity they were going for.

Of course that's not what happened. They are on the bottom.

Why the bottom? Well, they are out of the way from accidental activation, but easy to get to. The same reason we do things like this in, say, mobile app or Web design today. Even this is an unusually well-designed device. Other weather radios of this era tried to achieve simplicity by doing things like hiding the tuner inside the device; you need a screwdriver to adjust it.

If even the third-tier Radio Shack designers, knocking off the principles of simple design in decades past can figure that out, why can't we all figure out the same for current digital designs? Surface the basic features, express simplicity in operation, and obscure the extra functions that are still needed, but make these controls easy to use when revealed.


Anonymous said...

My father actually had this exact weather radio when I was growing up. Somehow the volunteer fire department changed the frequency, so it received not weather, but the emergency broadcast station through it. I hated that little box with the scratchy, non-interesting voices coming out of it. But reflecting back it was effective for the volunteer fire fighters in my town. We lived close enough to the station to hear the alarm, so when it went off my dad would turn up the volume on that little box to find out what was going on. Maybe not a planned design use, but it worked in the '70s.

shoobe01 said...

There is a tuner on the bottom, so you are supposed to use a piece of paper that came with it to tune to your local frequency. A handful of these existed, so you could get your weather, without hearing interference from the neighbors.

Since frequency allocations are pretty strict, I assume the VFD cheated or screwed up. They shouldn't have been on that frequency, but I agree it would have been cool to hear them there.