I came across two good examples of technology in need of problems recently.
For the holidays I bought my wife a new camera, a Canon Powershot SD1000. This camera, as is usual with Canon's tinycams, is a gorgeous marriage of art and technology. However it reaches well beyond the normal level of bells and whistles to a point of ridiculousness.
When I opened the box I was greeted with not one, not two, but SIX instruction manuals. Okay granted two were in Spanish, but still. Knowing fully well my wife would refuse to read any sort of printed product that explained gizmo usage, I figured it would be up to me to read the instructions and train my wife. By the time I'd reached page 17 of the user manual, I had learned to make the camera bark like a dog when I pressed the shutter button. I also learned how to change the splash screen that appears when the camera turns on. And I learned how to make it show me the time and date on the screen whenever I wanted it to, in a special animated graphic that flashed across the screen just long enough to be cool but not long enough to actually allow the user to read and process the actual time.
But one thing the book did NOT tell me how to do by page 17 was to take a picture. I flipped forward and found the first instance of picture-taking instructions on page 23.
In another demonstration of grand UI design, a George Foreman Lean Mean Toasting Machine appeared in the office kitchen this week. It appears that in a sudden altruistic act of re-gifting, an anomymous benefactor decided to toss out the grungy old office toaster and replace it with this gray, streamline hunk of plastic.
I never new toasting could actually be either Lean or Mean. But it just so happened that I had toast to make that morning (a bagel, actually) so I gave it a shot.
First of all, this toaster allows both pieces of toast to go into the same slot, rather than in two slots parallel to each other. This meant the toaster is about a foot long. Which, as you can imagine, is way to big for a countertop.
Second, just above the slide-down lever is an LED indicator. On the indicator is a picture of a slice of bread, with an "X" drawn over it. A couple of us pondered what that could possibly mean. We also pondered why on earth we couldn't get the lever to stay down or the Lean Mean Toasting Machine to start leanly or meanly toasting. Eventually we discovered that this indicator was actually a button, in fact the "Cancel all toasting operations and return bread slices to owner" button, and it was pushed in and jammed, causing the system to malfunction.
There was also a button on the side of the unit, with a picture of a snowflake on it. Oh joy! This must mean our Lean Mean Toasting Machine would make Lean Mean Slushies, as well. No, unfortunately not. After looking on the internet we found this button is a defrost feature. We tried it, and successfully turned a frozen piece of bread into a pile of soggy bread. Ah, so it DOES make slushies...bread-flavored ones.
Nice try, George.