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This is how you design a remote!

My family has a bunch of old VHS tapes. Shelves full of them. Most or all of the tapes are TV programs that my mom mostly recorded and then forgot about never bothered to watch never got around to watching. Most of those have labels, and most of the labels are mostly accurate.

So, this year we as a family have made a point of watching our old tapes while we still can. By “while we still can”, I mean “while we can still obtain a working VCR without having to ship it from Lower Slobbovia”. It’s 2015, almost 2016. Who even has a VCR, let alone a working one?

We used to have VCRs. They’ve all died of old age, one by one. These last few months we’ve been using one that used to belong to my grandma. It’s on its last legs. Can’t even get color, except red for some reason.  No way to adjust the tracking: the original remote was lost long ago, and the universal remote we’ve been using doesn’t have tracking buttons. We’ll be taking it to the recycling center tomorrow.

We got two used VCRs for Christmas (in case one doesn’t work). I’ve just hooked them both up. They both work perfectly!

And now to the thing that inspired this post: the remote control. One of our new VCRs came with the remote pictured:

A VCR remote with extraneous buttons hidden behind a flapThis is how you design a remote! Notice how the four most-used buttons – play, stop, rewind, and fast forward – both visually stand out and are easy to find with your thumb due to their large size. Slightly less important buttons – such as power, pause, and record – are also easy to find (though I wish the pause button were bigger and more centrally located). Infrequently used buttons – menu, display, and so on – are present when needed and not hard to find, yet putting them behind the flap makes it immediately obvious that these buttons can be ignored if all you want to do is watch a freaking video. Genius!

It is often said (by my dad) that computer hackers (like me) need to learn how to make interfaces that are actually useful, not just pretty looking. I agree. So, when I encounter something that I feel is an exceptionally good design, I will try to post about it. The above remote design makes using the VCR’s basic functions quick and easy, while also making it obvious where the advanced functions can be found.

Stay happy, stay free, and don’t forget that you don’t need to be a consumer.