One of the funny things about working in web usability is that you become very sensitive to how unusable many things are (i.e. physical things, not just web sites).

Long ago, I wrote about my experience with a microwave oven. Today I’d like to mention another of my pet usability peeves: the “One Touch” Control on my Holmes window fan.

Fan controls should be really simple, right? Just three buttons: off, low and high. Or one toggle switch that cycles between off, low and high.

No, no… that would be too obvious and wouldn’t give the manufacturer bragging rights about exciting features!

So the engineers at Holmes decided to throw a thermostat into the mix. (Why I don’t know; it’s a FAN, not an air conditioner.)

Much worse, they decided to have all functions (on/off, high/low, plus 5 temperature settings) controlled by a single push button. Apparently the engineers/designers were very proud of themselves, as they boast about this “feature” with a “1-Touch” sign below the button.

It’s the most unusable system imaginable. Toggling through off/high/low with a single button would have been okay. (You’d never be more than two button presses from where you want to be.) But because they combined the thermostat control into the same button, the user is forced to toggle through all the thermostat settings… even if he doesn’t want to use the thermostat!

The two speed settings are multiplied by five, giving ten different settings. Plus “off”, making eleven. So it’s not “one touch” at all. It’s more like eleven touch. (The movie This is Spinal Tap comes to mind: “My fan goes to eleven!”)

To be fair, the engineers did add an alternate way to turn the fan off. You can just hold the button down. But since you have to hold it down for about a WEEK, the less patient of us would rather toggle. Then of course we get frustrated and start pressing too fast… and we pass the setting we wanted… and since there’s no going backwards, we have to start all over again… meaning it’s 22 touches… oops missed it again… now 33 touches… Grrrrr.

So what can we learn from this usability travesty? At least two things.

First, think twice about adding unnecessary features (like a thermostat in a fan). And second, think eleven times before combining two different feature controls into a single button.

Anyone want to buy a slightly used fan?