Remote Control Design

Posted on Saturday 14 January 2006

The simplicity of the remote control means you can control something from a remote distance. The technology behind the little devices is genius, but how well do the controls convey an easy approach to operation?

The first remote intended to control a television was developed by Zenith Radio Corporation in the early 1950s. The remote — unofficially called “Lazy Bonesâ€? — used a wire to connect to the television set. To improve the cumbersome setup, a wireless remote control was created in 1955. – Wikipedia

The Zenith Space Command remote control
The Zenith Remote

Since their inception, remote controls don’t seem to have changed much. In fact the only real change has been in size, first getting smaller with battery technology and then getting bigger due to an amass of functions. Early remotes simply controlled the volume and the channel. With televisions adding functions, the remotes had to handle more of those functions, or did they? Now we’re into the digital era, television remotes simply access the digital menu within the television and by navigating this menu, most of the super-advanced functions have been removed.

At the time of writing, the latest remote to be listed on is the MX-950 “Aurora” Remote Control. Sounds like a good name, right? And it looks pretty cool too, right? Well that’s all a matter of opinion. The low resolution of this image brings me to my first point. What if you can’t see the labels? If it’s dark, or you need glasses to view something that close? Handling a remote control should be intuitive, quick and easy. Fingers and thumbs should be able to locate the desired function without taking an eye off of the television.

Complete Control MX-950
The MX-950
Cut Copy Paste Logos

A well designed remote control might utilise many forms of visual, physical or sound orientated communication. The buttons might conform to an unidentified universal remote design code, using physical icons to represent the key functions. Icons which can be represented through touch or vision. Elastic Space talks about how design for RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) needs to define a graphic language for touch.

Good software is one example of how a common GUI (Graphical User Interface) is deemed nessecary. Users feel that they can move from one software package to another without having to completely re-learn the user interface. File… Save… will probably always save the work / page / image you are viewing. Cut, Copy and Paste commands have universal logo’s. So where are these definable moments within the everyday simple technology which we choose to surround ourselves with.

The Karmeleon Remote Control

The Kameleon from OFA (One For All) is an example of taking the technology to a further and more expensive level. Not everyone is ready to spend £50 on a 4 in 1 remote control. The design works, and i’m pretty sure people are buying it, but shouldn’t the design of the remote control be more about speed and intuition? I think so!

Are these products over-designed? Can we do without many of the functions the average remote control has? How often do we use all of these functions? Is there another way?

1 Comment for 'Remote Control Design'

    February 15, 2006 | 4:11 pm

    I share your opinion about remotes. I started with an MX-700, got an MX-3000 and programmed it to have a lot of “jazz” in it just to show off to my guests when they come to the house that I’m a kinda techie guy. I was able to achieve full automation yet soon I realized that I might have overspent too much on the control. I was not satisfied with my guests being impressed with the remote because they seemed just to be amazed with it for a minute and in the next, their attention was on something else. Almost everytime, all of them paid much more attention on the contemporary wall sculptures in the house and my AV equipment.

    My point is that nobody really minds about how the remote looks like because it serves a simple purpose. Therefore it has to be function first rather than form and has to be convenient.

    I ended with an MX-950 because of the programming limitations on the MX-700 but I would prefer the feel and simplicity of the MX-700.

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