Over Complicated User Interfaces Lead to Low Confidence

Screen 1 - LaCrosse Atomic Projection Clock
Screen 2 - iPad Clock Search
Screen3 - iPad World Clock
Screen4 - iPad Alarm Found
Screen5 - iPad Edit Isn't Edit
Screen6 - iPad Alarm Setting
Screen7 - iPad Alarm Set
Screen8 - 80s Clock
Screen9 - 80s Clock Close Up

The Situation:

I have a photography shoot early on a Saturday morning. I’m going to need to set an alarm for 5:15am, but I don’t normally use alarms. Normally my husband (who gets up earlier than me) wakes me up and he’s not in town. I’m not sure what to rely on to make sure I wake up for this important shoot. Luckily we have two clocks and an iPad to work with all within reaching distance of the bed.

The Problem:

LaCrosse Atomic Projection Clock

Let’s start with the fancy Atomic LaCrosse Projection clock on my side (Screen 1). This clock allows you to glance at the ceiling and see the time and outside temperature projected there. I love it, I can barely open my eyes and get some basic stats.

Unfortunately from there the clock goes downhill. How to change the time is still an unknown to me, and the manual is as confusing as the interface.

If you look at the front of the clock the choices are: AL/HOUR – sunshine symbol – move in four directions – MOD/MIN. So what would you push to get the Alarm? AL/HOUR? That makes sense, so I pushed it and the time started blinking. Since the button is named, “AL/HOUR”, I wasn’t confident if I was effecting the Alarm or the Hour. In attempting to change the time I tried every button on that clock in every combination and nothing changed the blinking time.

We have all felt this frustration of attempting to manipulate equipment and our communication becomes muted by a dead-end in their interface. I tried again and changed the blinking numbers, but I was so frustrated at the time that I still can’t find the combination of buttons I pushed to get to the time (it was a non-sensical combination of two buttons).

Well at least now there is an Alarm symbol (I think it is an Alarm symbol, there are 2 other symbols there as well), I should have an alarm… but I’m really not confident that an alarm has been set for the right time, and I really do need to get up in the morning. So off I go to my iPad…

(I have now lost 20 minutes of my sleep.)


Setting an alarm on my iPad should be easy enough. Where is that alarm? I think it is in the Clock app, where is that? I get a search box when I pull down on the iPad screen and I type in “clock” (Screen 2). OK, now we are cooking. I open it up and there is a World Clock in front of me (Screen 3). Did I hit the wrong search? Not sure, but at the bottom there is an Alarm symbol, so that must be it.

I click on that Alarm symbol and there are already 5 alarms in there, none of which are the time I want to wake up, so I will tap one to edit the time… nothing. Wait, it says Edit on the top left, click it… I now seem to only have the option to delete the alarms, not edit them (Screen 4)? OK. Well there is a + symbol on the upper right, so I click that and I can make a new alarm (Screen 5), but I now have 6 alarms in here, but whatever, it’s set and it should work (Screen 6)… or will it?

My iPad is muted and I also have Do Not Disturb on automatically at night. Will the alarm play with all of those sound off features? I don’t know and I don’t feel like researching it right now, as I REALLY need to get to sleep! My husband has an alarm clock…

(I have lost another 8 minutes of sleep.)

1980s Clock

I roll to the other side of the bed and dust off my husband’s 80s alarm clock. Here it is in all it’s glory (Screen 8). My husband bought it in 1982 and it still works 35 years later refusing to die, god bless it.

I wipe off some dust and click the nice big button labeled “Wake” with some great feedback that I have indeed clicked a button and the time begins to blink (Screen 9). I change the time to 5:15 (albeit with 15 seconds of scrolling around the minutes) and move the switch to “Alarm”.

(Time spent, 1 minute.)

The Lesson:

The epilogue is that all 3 alarms went off at the same time. However only one alarm gave me enough feedback that I was confident that it would work.

Every user interface needs to pass three bars:
1. Is it intuitive?
2. Is it simple?
3. Is it communicating feedback?

I will say that the 80s clock had the unfair of advantage of being an “Alarm Clock” by definition, but it’s simple purpose seems to be ignored in modern design. I think my undesired late night UI test brings up many UI issues that are dominating our lives.

The LaCrosse clock is a great example of the bane of modern inventions. I bought it because it had features I liked and I thought about nothing else. LaCrosse got the sale. Now LaCrosse needs to win me over as a customer to maintain their business. If I am happy with the product I will be brand loyal. However, I believe that their user interface was not invested in. No one tested this clock thoroughly outside the company. Most users will even learn a bad interface on a great product and just accept it as a quirk of the equipment. However in this case, LaCrosse has doubled down in showing a disdain for their own customer. LaCrosse offers a manual that is so inept that it does not provide enough information to change the time on the clock. I feel as if I have been taken advantage of and I will not buy a LaCrosse product again.

When companies give the user ‘cool new features’ they need to be putting the same amount of effort into refining and explaining them as they do in thinking them up.

The iPad’s time waste I can forgive because it serves many purposes. However the Clock interface could be improved quite simply. Allow the user to click on an alarm and change it. The primary purpose of an alarm is to set one, not to have multiple alarms. Apple reversed the order of importance in the interface. Sure that’s a great extra to have multiple alarms, but most users will likely only have need of one alarm. The interaction with that alarm should be clean, simple and intuitive, like the 1980s clocks… because we need to get our sleep!

Apple Maps Forgets Its Primary Purpose

Apple Maps App Search Screen 1
Apple Maps App Search Screen 2
Apple Maps App Search Screen 3
Apple Maps App Search Screen 4
Apple Maps App Search Screen 5
Apple Maps App Search Screen 6
Apple Maps App Search Screen 7

The Pitch:

My entire life I had 20/20 vision. Now my eyesight requires reading glasses to focus on text on the iPhone and iPad. As a result I have been increasingly frustrated with applications that won’t allow me to get a general idea of what is going on without pulling out my eyeglasses.
Enter Apple Maps for the iPad. Yes, Apple is a standard by which all design is measured. Apple Maps on the iPad however has interface design issues.

The Problem:

As you can see in the photo to the left (Screen 1), 31% of the screen is being taken up by information that may or may not be relevant to the User. Let’s establish the primary directive of the User first.

People are using a map application for the map. Because we are using the iPad, it is possible that the User is out of the house and experiencing slow connectivity and/or difficulty viewing and because it is a map application, the required content might be critical.

Are there other reasons to take up 31% of screen space? Apple Maps is installed on all Apple products, so there is no need to use this space to create a primary profit for the app (which might justify using almost a third of the space). The essential objective of a majority of Users can be stated, that they need a map.

The User Experience:

So with that in mind, let me take you through my User journey in Apple Maps on the iPad…

1. I want to got to Amante, where is it?

Type in “amante” in the left box Search, hit Enter (Screen 2)

2. Amante is now located on the map (Screen 3).
But that left screen has SO much information. What the business is, how close it is to my current location, the expense of the restaurant, have photos of the restaurant, can call their phone, click the website, favorite it or share it, hours, address (most valuable), phone number (second most valuable)…

Scroll Down (Screen 4)

Still more information! The website (again), ‘Useful to Know’, ‘What People Say’, etc.
This whole time I can see my destination on the Map, but not in relation to where I am, so let’s hit that “Directions” button back on the top of this left box.

Click Directions.

3. Now I am trying to see my journey with road names, but again I am in the car and the lighting is horrible, I can see my fingerprints more than the screen and I can’t read that tiny text to see what road it is, so I will…

Zoom in

4. The names of the roads infuriatingly shrink back down to a 9 point font size (which they were originally), so I still can’t read the road names (Screen 5).

5. Now I can’t see both ends of my journey on the map, so let me get rid of that box, I have obtained all of the information that I needed from that box, the path is drawn out on the map, let’s see the whole route…

click the X in the top right of the left box

6. The entire route is erased. I am now back to the “TMI” box (Screen 3), yet the X to close it is still there, so I am going to try again to close it.

click the X in the top right of the left box for 2nd time

7. Now I have lost Amante as a search point and have nothing, no route, no point that I am going to, and there is no way to go back and undo my actions.
But I’m not giving up because I REALLY hate that box now, I’ve already asked it to leave twice and it seems to be punishing me by removing all the progress I had made just because I told it to go away!

8. There isn’t an X on the box now, but I think I can (Screen 6)

Swipe up on the bottom of the box

Ahhh, I won, except now I only have the small search box.

And Repeat

9. Because as soon as you type anything into that Search box, 31% of your screen will be taken up with that box again and there is no way to remove it from the screen and make use of the precious real estate on the iPad to view the map.


The solution is simple and clean, which is why it is so frustrating of an interface design fail, it is already designed and programmed into the interface. Put that lovely swipe up/swipe down capability on the box at all times to close or open it when you have need of the information… that’s it.
With concern to increasing the font size, one can increase the font size on the entire iPad and it will effect the Map app as well, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could have the same capability just in the Maps app settings?

Lesson in Design:

Sometimes all that information is good and you will attract more Users with more content and capabilities. However sometimes adding too much makes the program lose sight of it’s primary objective and in this case it crowds out almost a third of the application’s use.


As I was writing this Blog, the team at Apple posted an iOS update and fixed the left box problem after you click “Go” when looking at directions. Now when you click “Go” the application splits the box so that you can see the map over the entire screen. Good start Apple, but I almost never go to that screen, I prefer to stay in overview so that I can see the whole route and zoom in and out. (Screen 7)

Gretchen Throop Williams
Boulder, CO

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