Eastlink Cable Remote Usability Test

Cable operators remote controls haven’t improved much if at all.

A bit of light hearted geek fun during an otherwise emotional experience.

Over the winter I had the good fortune of being able to spend time caring for my mother while she was in palliative care. This excellent facility included many of the comforts of home, not least of which was a large screen television hung in a good viewing location in each guest room. I forget the brand but the TV had all the features that (not)smart televisions have now, features hidden and largely inaccessible to those not willing to commit to a large learning curve. Naturally, a good TV plays an important part in each guests time in the facility. Unfortunately the remote control only seemed to add frustration and increased work load for the volunteers and nurses.

Remote controls with bad UI is still a common issue.

Without fail each and every time my mother would want to watch TV she would be unsuccessful and hand the remote to me to try to fix the problem. I can’t figure this thing out she would say. I must have played with this remote for a week before I could make sense of what I was supposed to do to turn on the TV.

I wasn’t alone, with the exception of the nurses, the only way anyone could get the TV to show a TV show was by sheer luck.

After I figured it out, I decided to do little experiment. A discount usability test of a single task – turn on the TV to cable channel 5. Feigning ignorance I asked 7 visitors of various ages and perceived skills to complete the task. None of the participants were from the nursing staff as they, after repeated requests to perform the same task, had mastered the system. 6 participants are a common requirement for any test, with 1 extra in case their were issues with a participant and to provide a good practice run.

Afterwards I asked to explain how they accomplished the task, which would illustrate task flow.

The results were unsurprising. All had trouble with the remote. Most, (4 out of 7) gave up before completion and asked someone else for assistance. The remaining succeeded in turning on the TV and turning to channel 5 but did so entirely by luck so couldn’t recite the path they took to get there.

The problem is that remote control forces a specific button press sequence in order to accomplish the task (watch cable TV channel 5) but does not illustrate this requirement. Most people press the large green button with the text “watch cable TV”, but you must first press the smaller power button first. If you don’t the screen is active but you begin your hunt through the myriad of other similarly labeled buttons, all to no avail.

The fix is to properly label the sequence, with text and correct button size, or ideally, remove the need for a 2 button press for what is the most common function by combining these two actions into 1.