The 7% Solution

Some time ago we installed LCD screens with computers in a couple of the smaller meeting rooms. The original intent was to promote communication between the company offices however the main use seems to be as a mechanism to improve group reviews by putting up notes and work products up on the screen rather than relying on separate printed copies.

It seems quite a straightforward setup. A large LCD screen connected to a computer on a moveable cart. In addition there is a free VGA cable that can be plugged into a laptop. How could this go wrong?


Every now and then someone will pop their head into my room, which happens to be next to the meeting room, in a bit of flap. “Can you help me with the computer…” These are technically astute people. They all could have setup the system in the first place but when running late for a meeting or with a client in the room it doesn’t take much time fumbling with setup before they start becoming self conscious and risk veering into panic.

Taking a closer look at the setup and it is clear there is potential for difficulty even with the simplest case of powering up the system. The TV itself is a matt black monolith with no discernible power button on the front; rather it is on the side, recessed, small and black on a black background. So therefore one needs to use the remote control. It does have a nice red power button. However that assumes that the PC beneath the TV is on, which again has a black button on a black frame and can only be reached by grovelling under the table where the light is poor. The final step is whether the TV has been correctly switched to either the PC or the laptop video input.

On the left you can see the remote control for the TV. A common remote control. The control weighs in at 43 buttons. Beyond the number of buttons, there is also the additional source of confusion from the input labelled PC actually being the input for the Laptop and not for the computer on the TV cart.

On the right the result of some poor paper crafting is a jacket revealing only the buttons that we need. That is the Power button, the Computer input button, and the Laptop input button.3 buttons. We need just 7% of the buttons on the control.

Confusion and inefficiency sown by having to navigate around unused features has some standing in the software world too. Desktop applications in the past would often rely on providing both a “simple” and an “advanced” UI where access to the more uncommon features would be hidden when in the simple mode. One step along from that are toolbars where the user can choose what to populate with from a palette of controls.

The remote control paper sleeve continues that to the point where the user not only “chooses” the features that they need to be accessible but has also augmented the interface with use specific labels that are relevant only for this particular combination of hardware.

With the growth in “web applications” hosted in the browser I suppose we are back experiencing the problems of too many features and the resulting difficulties with the UI. I wonder what new approaches will be taken to ease this now with the greater interest in dynamic graphics, detailed usage data, and crowd sourced meta-content.

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