I write and review cutting-edge technology products for a living, yet I always think about my toaster every time I pick up a new piece of hardware. My toaster is designed not because I like bread, but because of how humans actually use gadgets. I use my toaster every week, which is a constant reminder that other products are often poorly designed.
Most toasters are very simple, you just drop one, bake two slices of bread on top, and pull a lever, and after a few minutes your toast will fly away as if waking from a nightmare induced by a dough. Results can vary from absolute gold to a visit from the fire department. My toaster is a little different.
Designers have clearly figured out how humans want to enjoy bread and bagels. Crumbs (Yes, this is a strange British thing). There is a setting for bagels that only turns on the internal parts of the heating elements, so you do not have toast outside. The frozen button makes it easy to toast the bread you store in the freezer. These are two useful additions, but the two buttons that really separate them are “Quick Look” and “A Little More”. The quick look gradually raises your toast bag to the top so you can check its progress during the toasting phase. It goes back and forth for a little more cooking time.
These two buttons and their simple nomenclature are designed to reflect the awkward reality of tasting bread, bagels and other baked goods. Bread varies in thickness and density, making it impossible to make perfectly toasted slices each time for toaster presets. My toaster reflects the complex reality of life with two buttons that are easy to understand and easy to use.
Now I know my toaster is not perfect (even This model since 1948 Had some great ideas) but I wish more technical products had been designed with me in mind. Human-centered design has certainly progressed in recent years, but it is still common to power a device, and it explodes with notifications, meaningless questions, and information overload, making it ultimately more difficult to use. I often pick up a new gadget and ask why the camera is placed in a particular place, or the buttons seem too tight or bright, or why USB-C is still not used. Did anyone try to use it?
I’m not a product designer, engineer or a qualified expert on how to design hardware, but I’m definitely appreciate when people give a lot of thought and consideration to how things are used on a daily basis. Most of the time it seems like half of my work is nitpicking, but these small product design choices have a huge impact on how we interact with technology each day.
As devices move into an era full of more sensors and make better decisions for you based on algorithm and machine learning, I hope the trend of designing for humans becomes clearer first. We have wasted so many years using bad thermostats, microwaves, ticket machines, ATMs and other bulk technologies. If everything works like my toaster, life will only get a little stressful.