I make it my job to speak with customers and test concepts as we develop new products and services. Sometimes the conversation turns to design, and I hear questions like:
Why a headband? What’s the secret behind the alarm tones? What inspired the shape?
Another question I often hear is:
When the alarm rings in the morning, why do you have to press two buttons to turn it off? It gets me out of bed, but I’ve never had to press two buttons on an alarm clock before.
There’s actually a little story about that.
Alarm clocks are miserable products
In 2005, Hilton Hotels conducted a study of business travelers that found that 57% feared that they would sleep past their alarm and only 18% of hotel guests actually trusted the hotel alarm clock to wake them because it was too complicated to set. The study goes on to say that millions of Americans rank setting an alarm clock as more complicated than filing taxes or programming a VCR.
An alarm clock.
What is good design?
The traditional alarm clock is horribly designed. Arguably one of the most difficult tasks in any given day is the first one: getting out of bed. And the tool that helps us with that task has on average 10.4 buttons and 1.3 dials/sliders (based on the nine alarm clocks I could uncover in my office). An iPod, in contrast, has two buttons and a click wheel.
The principles of good design have been explored and debated for decades, but there were a couple of key influences that guided us in designing Zeo.
- Dieter Rams is an award-winning designer who led design at electronics manufacturer Braun for 30 years. He is famously quoted to have said, Less, but better. We took his Ten Principles of Good Design to heart.
- Jonathan Ive is the principal designer of the iPhone, iPod, and iPad, not to mention the iMac, MacBook, and titanium PowerBook G4. Elements of his design philosophy are to keep it simple; simplicity is elegance and design for the materials in mind. Great things to aspire to.
The Design According to Zeo
We design to be thorough and useful, innovative and minimal. We also have another design requirement: to prevent catastrophe. Since Zeo has an alarm clock feature, it must prevent oversleeping; we don’t want to be the cause of unattended meetings, failed exams, missed flights, or mascara being applied in the car.
We learned the hard way that the first Zeo prototype made it too easy to sleep past the alarm. The original design required that you only had to tap the alarm button to silence the ringing alarm. In tests, many sleepers threw an exhausted hand at the snooze button, but accidentally hit the “alarm off” button instead. Catastrophe ensued.
After the test, we considered three options for silencing the alarm:
- Move the “alarm off” button to the opposite side of the snooze buttonUnfortunately distance didn’t prevent the problem when the sleeper is flailing about trying to hit the snooze.
- Build in a mechanical switch
- Press one button, then anotherPress the alarm button, and then the Right arrow. Instructions appear on the display when the alarm rings, just in case you forget. The first morning of Zeo use was sometimes a surprise, but testers said that they liked the presses because they made a conscious decision to turn off the alarm and get up.
It makes the bedside display more complicated to have both a button and a switch system. We were trying to minimize the number of buttons too, in keeping with good design principles.
We went with option #3. Catastrophe prevented! Better to wake the sleeper on time with two button taps than to gamble the morning on only one. So next time you see someone throwing make up on their face while swerving through traffic, tell them to get a Zeo.Jason (ZQ: 73) is responsible for designing everything you see, touch, read, hear, and interact with on Zeo, myZeo.com and the Sleep Coaching program. He’s also writing a series of posts about various features that are built into Zeo. If you have a question, send us an email and Jason will discuss it in a future post!