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It was a cold rainy day a few weeks ago. I was huddled up in my 1978 singlewide down by my lake retreat, aka, the fishcamp. Amongst the original wood paneling and glow of my iPad, I was pondering on a subject that I have been obsessing about for months now and just can’t shake it. Simplicity. Simplifying everything. My Design. My life. My stuff. My thinking.


My afternoon coffee I was warming up in the old circa 1971 Amana Radar range, the original consumer microwave, was done. As I opened the chrome door and reached in for that glorious mug of joe, I was hit in the face with something astonishing. How incredibly simple this microwave is compared to the feature filled versions of today with such ridiculous UI. 2 dials, one for minutes and one for seconds, and Start, stop and LIght buttons. I guess you need a light to see what side of the turkey is cooked and what side is still frozen.

Now I couldn’t stop focusing on that appliance of convenience. It took over the rest of my afternoon. Where did it all go wrong after such a simple start. My new microwave at the house, I looked up on the web. 30 buttons. THIRTY #[email protected]% BUTTONS. Start, Stop, Cook, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0, Timer, Power Level, Clock, Cook by weight, Defrost by Weight, Speed Defrost, Reset, Power Level, Reheat, Fresh Vegitable, Frozen Vegatable, soup, Popcorn, Baked Potato, Pizza, Beverage, Frozen dinner.  What does the cook button do? Cook by Weight? Now I have to get out a scale and weigh a bowl of soup? How is that convenient? Wait.. how is cook, start and reheat different? Speed defrost vs what? I thought the whole reason house a microwave was for speed. Beverage? Does it know I like my coffee 20 degrees warmer than my hot chocolate?

Also.. do I really need ANOTHER clock? My oven and coffee maker already have clocks on them. As well as the amazing subway station style wall clock I actually USE to tell time. Just because this appliance has need for a timer doesn’t mean the consumer needs another green glowing clock in their clock filled kitchen.

30 #[email protected]% BUTTONS!

I looked back a couple weeks and wrote down each way I used this magical piece of technology. It boiled down to just a few. Warm up beverage. Warm up leftovers. Warm up made for microwave overly processed prepared foods of convenience (example, easy mac). Defrost some frozen Venison I forgot to lay out in the morning. That was it. One thing that came to light. In 1971, nothing in the grocery store was made for the microwave. How have the manufactures missed the fact that 1/3rd of the grocery store is now filled up with those overly processed pre-prepared microwave products. 30 #[email protected]% BUTTONS for easy mac?

Maybe I’m not the norm. Maybe consumers really do “cook” in a microwave. I had to find out. Thru the power of electronic mail, I quickly had a survey out to 20 friends, family and relatives with a broad range of demographics. $0 – $250,000 income range. 20-72 years of age. Single, Married, Retired.

I asked them to tell me day by day how they used a microwave over the past week.

1 out of 20 actually cooked with it. Nobody considers heating something already cooked cooking. That one was steaming vegetables with it. So i considered that cooking since it started with a raw ingredient.

12 out of 20 had defrosted something with it. All of the defrosters admitted to poor planning and being overly busy as to why they didn’t plan ahead. Of course, 0 of the 12 used the microwave to cook the now defrosted food.

20 out of 20 warmed up something in it, Soup, Already prepared microwave type food, leftovers.

1 out of 20 ever used one of the preset buttons at least once that week. And it was only one time. It was for popcorn and it didn’t cook it long enough to pop all of the corn.

I also asked why they didn’t use the presets.

12 said because it never actually warms it up right. So they quit using them years ago.

the other 6 never looked at the instruction manual to even bother figuring out what they did.

The food industry changed. They saw the higher margins in providing a shelf stable or frozen overly processed pre-prepared microwaveable products in a bag, or box. The consumer stepped right in line and shelled out the extra hard earned coin for that convenience. The busier the world got. The more products came out.

30 #[email protected]% BUTTONS!

The microwave guys seem stuck in their glorious 1985 microwave heyday and never left it. The pitfalls of consumer focus groups. Focus Groups always love more and more features. It sound great on paper. But what looks good on paper most the time isn’t grounded in reality. How the consumer actually uses the appliance in daily life is. Hey.. can I get an Easy Mac® button? Who will be the first to come out with something elegant and simple and priced for the regular consumer? Who’s going to see the foodie trend moving consumers even further away from using the microwave in anything but convenience use?

Give me a single dial. Speed sensitive to jump to minutes if turned fast, seconds when turned slow. Press the dial to start. Hide the digital readout when it’s done. It could be that simple, elegant and high designed.

Or another solution, just use a small touchscreen with an elegant UI. But that is asking for trouble. I don’t really want it web enabled. I don’t need apps for it. I don’t want to watch youtube on it. I don’t want it poking me to “LIKE” the Easy Mac® i just warmed up.

PS. This blog was written on TextEdit. An actual “word processor” that is made too process words, not pretending to export out to html.