Interface Critique

HPdevice_full

For the interface critique, I decided to take a closer look at my beloved HP printer-copier-scanner, which has a huge sticker on the front with the promise “Intuitive Control Panel.” We’ll just see about that…

HPdevice_depressionThe device is basically a black rectangular box, with a cover, under which one can perform the copying and scanning, and a flip-out tray at the base, where paper can be fed into the system. A depression on one of the long sides of the device (opposite to the side with the cover’s hinges) indicates clearly where one can flip up the cover. The shape and size of the depression affords manipulation — indeed, that is also the spot where a panel (perpendicular to the cover) can be pulled down so that the ink cartridges can be replaced.

Underneath the cover, one can read a string of markings at various points along the glass pane: “A4,” “LTR,” “4x6IN” (with “10x15CM” underneath it) and an “L.” Someone who has never been taught the “special vocabulary of paper sizes” may be perplexed by this, but overall, I would say that these markings should not present any sort of design problem to the average user. The “4x6IN/10x15CM” and the “L” are a little confusing — however, since “4×6 inches” is a commonly used set of dimensions for photographs, I think most folks will assume (correctly) that that marker has to do with printing pics. The “L” remains a mystery–since it’s not in the right place for legal-sized paper, I’m completely stumped… perhaps one day I will figure it out when it becomes important to completing some task at hand.

The final symbol along the glass pane indicates quite clearly that one should place the document face-down and aligned against a certain corner. Even without this guidance, having to place the document face-down does feel like the natural thing to do — seeing the machinery through the glass plane gives the user an intuitive understanding of how the copying/scanning is done (of course, this set up probably reflects mechanical necessity more than proper design). The paper feeder also requires that documents are placed face-down, which is not intuitive, though neither is the alternative. The best thing a designer can do in that case is to follow general copier convention (in the US?), which helps to avoid confusion.

For the most part, the visibility on this device is great. The functions of each button are clearly labeled (with both icon and words in many cases), and the use of color to convey information like “cancel” and “color printing” is well thought out. The panel that needs to be opened to replace the ink cartridges displays clear schematics for how to snap an ink cartridge into the slot; and colors are used well in the schematic to indicate clearly which cartridge goes where.

On to the control panel. All the buttons are concentrated in the lower left area of the device, which I think is a good design choice because 1) There aren’t that many buttons overall, so seeing them all together underscores how easy this device is to operate —  “Hey, this is all there is to it!”; 2) One doesn’t have to go looking for stray buttons; 3) The proximity of the buttons and their functions further help to illuminate the affordances of the device. For example, because the cancel button is at the top of control panel, which also contains buttons for scan and copy, it’s absolutely clear that the cancel button will stop either function.

The feedback when one selects various copy settings works very well too. Pressing a button located next to an area of the panel displaying three paper size options causes a green light to move from the current selection of paper size to the one below it (and if the last option has been selected, pressing the button causes the choice at the top of the list to light up — it’s very intuitive; a three-choice loop). The only aspect that is confusing is the “Black/Color” display, which looks to me like it is simply “selected” — however, the “selected” symbol is actually the number zero and pressing the “Black” button causes the number in the display to increase, all the way up to 9. I am assuming this is how one selects the darkness of the printout (again, this assumption is based on past experience with copiers). Somewhat curiously, I can’t get the number to go back to zero… I need to press the cancel button to do that.

inkdrop_web The only other criticism I have is that the symbols for the color ink indicator and the black ink indicator are too similar (and too small). To stay within HP’s color scheme, the color ink indicator is a teal ink drop while the black ink indicator is a black ink drop. The teal is too similar to black, in my opinion, and the small size of the ink drop makes the problem of distinguishing between the two colors even worse.

Nevertheless, overall, this is an example of solid interface design.

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