Monday, April 17, 2006

Black is back

I've become aware of a rather strange anti-usability movement amongst consumer electronics manufacturers. It's an underground movement - you won't see these 'features' in their advertising - but apparently gaining momentum.

My wife and I recently purchased a new DVD player - a fairly middle-of-the-road replacement for our old one which had developed several glitches. The player is a Pioneer model and works extremely well except for one annoying feature: the open/close button on the player itself is a black button set into a black faceplate. Sitting here, about 12 feet from the machine it's impossible to see it. It isn't labelled; it's the only black button on the player.

Of itself this wouldn't constitute a trend, but we have just finished setting up a new Canon photo-copier/scanner/printer. When we started setting up the printer it was late afternoon and the light was a little low. (The room we were in was suffering from several blow lightbulbs.) We reached a part of the instructions that spoke about the 'Open' button so we looked; and looked. I eventually changed the lightbulbs and, in the enhanced light, saw the open button: on the front of the machine, which is mostly black with silver trim, is an unlabelled black button, set flush on the black faceplate. This black button opens the output tray. It's the only unlabelled button on the printer.

When I was younger my parents, teachers &etc used to espouse the view that working for something would make us appreciate it all the more. It appears that the product designers at Canon and Pioneer hold the same views, which is kind of sad.