Ok first up, I don’t own a microwave. I know that makes me sound like one of those “oh I don’t own modern day appliances because I am free from the trappings of modern day consumerism” unbearable hipsters, but know this: I own a massive HD TV that I bought just so I could play video games at 4K resolution at 60 frames per second. So I’m like objectively the worst kind of consumer.
The reason I don’t own a microwave is mostly one of space. Counter-top real estate is precious, but it’s not always something you think about when picking where to live. Location, price, bedroom size, distance from the nearest hipster coffee shop – these demands all come first. So you can forget about your kitchen with a hand-wavey ‘ah, I’m sure that looks like enough.’
But it’s never enough. Several kitchen essentials instantly occupy some of the space the second you move in – specifically the toaster and kettle. These get used frequently enough to warrant their permanent tenancy on the worktop. Some other appliances can be relegated to a cupboard, or shelf, (or the rarer still ‘on-top-of-the-cupboard’) – things like blenders.
After this point you’ve got to start making compromises. Do we use the coffee machine enough for it to always be out? But packing it up and away is a massive faff; does that count extra to its justification as an ever-present fixture?
And it’s not just appliances. If you’re like me, you’ll probably end up with what’s best described as a ‘booze corner’. The spirits you like, bottles of wine people give you, little miniatures you’ve stolen from weddings. It seems like they should always be in grabbing distance, so out they come.
Don’t forget to leave a space to actually, erm, PREPARE FOOD. You’ll need at least a square foot of prep space. Plus room for the accoutrements of food prep – the tools, plates, utensils. Like, you might as well always have your electronic scales out, and chopping boards, and a timer. Kitchen roll obviously. And then the things that you’re going to use in every meal – oils, salt, etc.
If you still have any space left, then congratulations: your kitchen is bigger than my kitchen.
I’ve tried to figure out where I could put a microwave in my kitchen and the options are basically: a) the floor, or b) its own dedicated table. And as much as I find the idea of a floor microwave – or a microwave pedestal – funny, I’m not going to do that. I’ll just go without.
Because what’s a microwave actually for? Other than the preparation of ready meals, it seems kind of… useless?
“oh, but it’s so good for defrosting!”
Mate, just put it in the fridge all day. Or use the DEFROST SETTING ON YOUR OVEN (if it has one). Or you know what else is great for defrosting? Literally everything that isn’t a freezer. You ever hear of THE SUN, mate? That giant ball of gas that produce constant heat and is extremely efficient at exciting molecules? Try it sometime, moron.
It doesn’t help that microwaves are like the most confusing things to use in the world themselves. Here’s what the average UI for a microwave looks like:
Ok yes, I’ve deliberately used a picture of a Brazilian microwave to make it look more confusing. But all microwaves might as well be in Portuguese as far as I care. For something that has one feature (“HEAT”), that’s sure a lot of buttons.
Like, who’s cooking BREAD in the microwave often enough for that to warrant it’s own button? Or for it to need a CHILDREN’S MENU on it.
No, let’s do this. What’s the MVP for a microwave? What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for a product to exist as a microwave? Here’s my account:
- Provides heat.
- Lets you specify for how long you want the heat to last.
- Has a door.
- Has a ‘start’ button. Maybe a stop button, but that can be the same button. Or you can just open the door.
Here’s my first draft of a design:
I’ve got away with three buttons: more time, less time, and a GO/STOP button. Job done.
What I haven’t included is an extra button specifically for soup. Funny that.
Sometimes you get lucky and find a microwave that has a DIAL. With these you can control the temperature quite smoothly. If you were able to also press down on the dial as a stop/start button, you could simplify my design even further:
One button! The epitome of UX design! I don’t know why this isn’t the industry standard.
Looking around, you sometimes do find microwaves that are marketed as ‘simple microwaves’. But they suck too!
Two dials! My dudes, no! That second dial is supposedly so you can control the power rating. As if I wouldn’t want my microwave to be as powerful as possible at all times. Why is this even up for debate? Artificially limiting my microwave’s own power level seems at best self-defeating to me, and at worst: some kind of moral crime against technology itself. (shut up with your cooking vegetables or whatever in the microwave).
And as a side note: how come microwave power settings never match up with cooking instructions? At least in my experience, the instructions are always like “800W: 1/2 minutes / 900W: 1 minute” – meanwhile I’m stuck with an 850W microwave suddenly faced with a problem of differential calculus I’m not quite in the best position to tackle. I just want to eat my microwave lasagne.
BUT ANYWAY, why the complexity? Meh, it’s probably a marketing thing. Manufacturers always need to find the new big thing to sell, which is hard when the product is just a box that makes heat. So adding more and more features gives marketers more ways to pitch things (“New” is the second most powerful word in marketing, after “Free”). Which is how we end up with things like CHAOS DEFROST.
In short: everything sucks and life is pain.