Add 30 Seconds

In front of you sits a dinner plate piled with yesterday’s cold leftovers. You’re hungry and exhausted after a long day of work, so you’re not keen on reheating it via stovetop since that takes longer and involves more cleanup. And then there’s the microwave… It beckons you with a certain cuboid familiarity that you’ve come to associate with conveniently reheated food. You pop your plate into the big metal box, close the door, and consult the myriad buttons on its interface.

Dinner Plate? Well, I suppose that’s the right option for reheating my Dinner Plate. (But what if I had used a bowl instead?) Confusingly, there’s also a Reheat option—and yes, Reheating my Dinner Plate is, in fact, what I intend to do. So which one is it, then? To complicate matters further, there’s a rather suspicious-looking Potato option. Oh, I have so many questions: Is it strictly reserved for potatoes? Does potato in the singular preclude heating several potatoes at once? Does it spawn a potato? Ugh, wait, there’s also a Vegetable option? So Potatoes are somehow no longer Vegetables? All I had wanted to do was have a nice meal, and here I am having an existential crisis instead.

There’s also a number pad, a cancel/reset button, a start/pause button… Sigh. Where’s the “quickly heat my food so I can eat it already” button? Meanwhile, your plate of food has somehow grown colder since you started, and you’re fairly certain that that’s not how this is supposed to work. The sands of time begin to slip through your fingers when, at long last, you spot it: Add 30 Seconds. Ah, it’s so beautifully succinct and unambiguous. Forget about potatoes, vegetables, and dinner plates—all those nonsensical options don’t even tell you for how long your food will cook, but this one cuts straight to the chase. Plus, you don’t have to worry about causing Potato-related accidents at 6 p.m.

As with a microwave, you can cram as many vaguely worded options as you want into your user interface for the sake of padding space and covering all your bases, but your users will still hammer away at the add 30 seconds button if it gets the job done. Adding more options to help with decision-making may be a well-intentioned effort, but it can also overwhelm and confuse users, especially if some of those options aren’t mutually exclusive. Besides, nobody’s going to dust off the manual for your big box to understand how Dinner Plate differs from Reheat or whether Potatoes are, in fact, Vegetables. Ain’t nobody got time for that. The whole appeal of a microwave is to be able to press a button—one button—and forget about it. I can add 30 seconds and wait for the timer to go down. If I sense that my food is crackling too much, I can pop the door open anytime I want. If 30 seconds isn’t long enough, I’ll press it as many times as I need to until my leftovers are nice and toasty. I’m in control. I’m the captain now.

Keep your user interfaces simple. If one button can do the job of eight others, do you really need all of them, or can you remove some of them and create a more focused user experience? You save time, money, and valuable real estate by designing a simpler user interface; at the same time, you make it easier for your users to get in, do their job, and get out hassle free. It’s a win-win. Potato-vegetable.