What Steve Jobs did for product usability

when we moved to our house, one of the selling points was this supposedly amazing sprinkler controller.  it’s hooked up to a satellite feed that checks the weather.  if it’s about to rain, the sprinklers don’t go on.

smart, right?


the problem is that i’ve spent about 3 hours trying to set it to not flood my veggie garden.  my poor lettuce is so sad.

here’s the math:  3 hrs * my hourly rate = more money than i’ve saved in reducing my water usage.

i wasn’t a math major, but that equation es no bueno.

at 6 am, when i heard the sprinklers running for 20 minutes in the veggie garden zone, i figured it was time to call the company.  i left a message…it was 6 am after all.

they called back and asked if i had about 15 minutes to run through the programming with them.  with both kids bouncing around and having a blast on the tiny trampoline in the house, i politely said no.

he agreed to send me PDF instructions on how to program the controller as i desired.  really?  a PDF?  we’re talking a sprinkler system, not launching a rocket to the moon.  the instructions read like this:  turn the top knob 7 clicks to the right, then turn the bottom knob 12 clicks to the left.  choose soil type, root depth, slope incline, sun penetration…..

um….didn’t realize i needed a PhD in botany to water my garden.  while i’m a few years short of my thesis, this is not a good user experience….this product was definitely designed by an engineer!

but maybe i’m the only schmo who can’t figure it out, so, i posted on my neighborhood message board.  fortunately (for my ego), several neighbors replied that they had the same experience.  then i got to thinking….when i design software, i ALWAYS think about the end-user.  if i need a user’s manual, it’s not easy enough to use.

Steve Jobs transformed how we think about product design.  when you buy a new Apple product, all of the package branding is consistent.  across the entire suite of products.  every product has a singular goal:  be so easy to use that you WANT to buy more.  you WANT to put an Apple sticker on your car.  you WANT to blog about it.

how many Windows stickers have you seen on the backs of peoples’ cars?  as my 3 year old would say:  “None.  Mommy, that means ZERO!”

after you sprint to the car after leaving the Apple store with your purchase (don’t pretend you wait until you get home!), you open the packaging, and you can almost hear the angels and trumpets singing “ahhhhhhh……”  the clouds part.  life is great.

i can’t recall ever referencing an Apple manual.  Apple products are so easy to use that my one year old can figure them out.  in fact, the best purchase i ever made was getting my mom (an AOL user — i know, i know…there’s only so much i can do!) a Mac PowerBook with a One-to-One package.  while i’m not suggesting that my mom is less technically savvy than my one year old, miraculously….and instantly, the imeeshu tech support hotline was shut down.

remember, the user should drive product design.  if you’re an engineer, bring on a User Interface/User Experience expert.  it will save your business….even if you’re slinging sprinkler controllers.

About meesh

Meesh has a passion for people, creative projects, and technology. She enjoys painting furniture back to life, gardening, playing with her kids, and connecting people.