Whirlpool AMW 509/IX

User Experience case study of a microwave oven with advanced cooking features

User Experience analysis

Claudio Lintunen

Rule of thumb for UX: More options, more problems.

– Scott Belsky

A cornerstone of any kitchen is the heating method, most commonly a microwave or oven or both. From simple ovens to microwaves loaded with features to (make you believe that you) get the most out of your food, these devices come in many forms.

This case study examines the usability and accessibility of the Whirlpool AMW 509/IX microwave-oven, which combines microwave, oven and grill. The device offers many advanced features, which on paper seem impressive, but in everyday life complicate its usage and can result in a paradox of choice¹. Does the regular user care about all the things that the oven can do or would they be happier with a more minimalistic design?

In this case study I will report the findings of observing a user in their late 20s using the device, and my own analysis of its usability and accessibility.

Analysis

Reading guide

There are four levels of severeness for the found issues:

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Control panel

Usability

The oven is operated with a touch-focused control panel, which has a dial in the middle. The touch-buttons are used for basic operations such as On/Off, Start/Stop, Time and Back (in the menu structure, described later) and the dial is used to navigate the menu, adjust temperatures, times etc.

All functions of the oven, except the quick microwaving function accessed by ”Start” button, are accessed from the menu, navigated with a dial. There are six icons, each representing either a single function or a category of functions.

Most icons are universal and thus easily understood (though ”universal” does not mean that everyone understands them – cultural and personal variables apply). Under the ”6th sense” category there are three sub-categories marked by very similar icons, differentiated only by a small line or two. The touch-buttons around the dial are used for basic operations such as On/Off, Start/Stop, Timer and Back (in the menu structure, described later) and the dial is used to navigate the menu, adjust temperatures, times etc.

Most icons are universal and thus easily understood (though ”universal” does not mean that everyone understands them – cultural and personal variables apply).

 

  • Major: Too many options
    • 39 different options including sub-level categories were counted. Lin admitted to only using four of them actively, not even knowing what all them do and uninterested in spending time learning.
    • Proposition: Choices should be reduced¹  for the sake of simplicity
  • Minor: In ”6th sense” category three sub-categories are marked by very similar icons
    • Icons are differentiated only by a small line or two. These are easy to mix up
    • Proposition: Change icons to ones easier to distinguish from each other
  • Minor: Sub-modes of ”6th sense” and defrost-functions are ambiguous
    • Marked only by numbers 1-5, the user has to memorize each function
    • To aid the user, there is a ”cheat sheet” on top of the oven door, where each function is hinted by an icon (beef, bread, pizza, fries, soup…)
  • Minor: The same icon/function appears twice
    • ”Crisp”-mode is both a sub-category of the ”6th sense” icon and a top-level icon itself. The difference is not clear without reading the manual
  • Minor: Many steps to access ”6th sense”-functions
    • Click, dial, click, dial, click(, open & close door, click)
    • Proposition: Users appreciate simplicity and convenience. Reduce functions to reduce steps

Accessibility

The only features serving accessibility are the physical dial and sound feedback. Otherwise, the oven fails to serve disabled users, especially those with limited vision.

  • Minor: Icons are small and have low contrast
    • Gray un-backlighted icons (around the dial) against a black background are hard to see even for a user with a good vision, let alone for one with limited vision. Icons are only 0,3-0,5mm by radius, making hard to see for visually limited users
    • Proposition: increase the size of the icons (thus the whole panel) and change the icons’ color to bright white to maximize contrast
  • Cosmetic: Icons have low visibility in bright daylight
    • On a bright day the icons are hard to see
    • Proposition: Allow vertical tilting of the panel, so the user can adjust it according to the level of sunlight for maximum visibility
  • Minor: Dial has too small steps
      • Users with mobility issues such as Parkinson’s might have challenge selecting the right items with the dial
      • Proposition: Slightly increase the sizes of the dial’s steps, and its resistance for better ”articulation” in navigating between menu items
  • Sound feedback is poor
    • All beeps are identical to each other, making it impossible for a visually impaired user to know where in the menu they are. On and off functions have distinct sounds, and the rest of the interface should follow suit
    • Proposition: Add variety to the sound feedback for more accessible usage

Oven

The oven part itself, meaning all but the control panel in this study, has major concerns regarding children’s safety.

  • Major: Lack of safety-lock in the oven door
    • The door can be opened during heating with only a gentle pull, potentially exposing the dangerously hot dishes to a toddler, risking major burns
    • Proposition: add a physical or digital lock to the door, so that it can’t be opened by a small child
  • Minor: Sharp corners on the oven door handle
    • The handle is on the level of a toddler’s head, assumably running around the house and thus risking tripping and hitting their head on the sharp corner
    • Proposition: Remodel the handle into a curved one instead of rectangular

Conclusion

The Whirpool AMW 509/IX is full of features and its ”smart” cooking programs are meant to ease the everyday life of its users. However, the usual tenant, like Lin, wishes for simplicity, and the sheer amount of modes and functions compromises that. She admits to only using a few of the simplest functions, but the rest is just confusing for her. Perhaps for professional use, such as a café or eatery this would be a good solution, but for everyday use it’s too advanced.

Accessibility is to be considered further with the Whirpool AMW 509/IX. Especially the contrast and size of the touch buttons should be increased and sound feedback for button presses should easier to distinguish with more variety in the sounds.

Safety should be improved by adding a child lock on the oven door. Additionally, the oven door handle could be replaced with a more streamlined one, so that no-one would get hurt at the sharp corners.