The Moral and the Short Version

For functional products, design is perfect when you don’t notice it.


The Longer Version

Sometime last year, someone in our house let all the magic smoke out of our microwave and we had to buy a new one.  It was just as well, because the last one was so old that the coal bill was a killer. 

Per usual practice, we surfed http://consumerreports.com/ for recommendations and picked up a new one from a local bigbox store.  Once home, we plugged it in, and it worked.  The turntable turns, the ‘thaw’ function works.  Ta-da!  It’s like magic. 

In fact, it really was, because you could put in popcorn, push the “Popcorn” button, and it would cook it correctly, every time.  Wow!  Neat-o!  No more odor of vomitous, semi-burned kernels.

It has been a good purchase.  Easy to clean, plenty of shortcuts like “Press ‘1’ for one minute, ‘2’ for two minutes, etc.  The manufacturer did a good job.  Happy-happy.

Then, the other day, as I was “cooking” breakfast, primarily by boiling some water in the microwave, I noticed that my  wrist didn’t hurt. Why should it, you ask?

Here’s how I boil water:

I use Pyrex or Lexan measuring cups, and they have handles, which are necessary even with a microwave because the vessels get hot.

Face the microwave, holding the container of water (by its handle) in right hand.  Open the door with left hand, place container on turntable. Close door.  Press ‘2’ for two minutes of cooking on high power. When the beeper beeps, reach in and pick up container by handle, pour on oatmeal.  Eat.

“So?” you say. 

“So” is something I didn’t notice for months.  With my old microwave ovens, once the timer indicated my water was ready, I’d have to reach in and try to grab the measuring cup’s handle, often managing to burn my wrist with scalding steam if the handle wasn’t easily accessible, which by the odds was about 1/3 of the time.

With the new microwave, this doesn’t happen, and it took me a few minutes to suss out why not. The answer, as you may have guessed, is:


The turntable in my microwave revolves six times every minute.  The practical aspect of this is that if you use any of the pre-sets (30 seconds, 1-9 minutes), the container will always end up with its handle in its initial position.  Result:  no burned wrist.

As quality goes, it’s the kind you don’t notice that really counts.  Sure, I could set the timer for 25 seconds, but that takes four buttons (‘Clear’, ‘2’, ‘5’, ‘Start’), whereas there’s a button for 30 seconds.  It’s not that I’m being coerced, bribed, or even convinced to use the device efficiently, it’s just that the design lends itself to being used in a way most likely to make the user happy.


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