Inclusive instructions for domestic appliances

Is your new kitchen gadget or appliance intuitive to use? How about the instructions on the device? Every model of microwave, even within the same brand, has a different operating system. This doesn’t help. And some of the icons that are meant to guide the user don’t make sense to everyone in the same way. So what can industrial designers do about creating inclusive instructions for domestic appliances? A human-centred design approach provides some answers.

Three researchers looked at how this problem can be solved because kitchen appliances are an essential part of life now. Their study took the perspective of older adults, which implies they are the only group with cognition and mental processing issues. Once again, what might be good for some, not all, older adults, will of course, be good for many others.

The researchers came up with a coding system to help designers and used a microwave as the case study. The coding system considers four aspects of users’ interactions with a microwave. Briefly they are:

  1. Information processing – gathering and interpreting information
  2. Interactions with the microwave’s user interface and control panel
  3. Listening to the users as they use the device
  4. Impediments to the user’s workflow
A standard microwave oven showing the instruction panel.

The study describes their process for developing the coding system for designers, and the details each of the four elements of the code. While other studies use a series of personas, this study used real people and their negative experiences. The researchers also linked the microwave use with ready meal packaging. This allowed them to see the difficulties in interpreting the cooking information and relating it to the device.

Getting it right for users

Simple turning knobs and switches with numbered dials are a thing of the past. So anyone who has difficulty transitioning to a digital display is going to be disadvantaged. Microwaves are an essential tool for people who have difficulty preparing a meal because they can heat ready-made meals.

Poor organisation of information appeared to be a powerful factor in influencing users’ information processing and interactions. The key appears to be getting both sequencing information together as well as activity grouping information. This poses further challenges.

Involving real people and not personas is the key to resolving design issues for users. The researchers acknowledge that getting it right for older people means benefits for many other users.

The title of the article is, A design evaluation tool for older adults using domestic information processing appliances.

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