Designing a “Less Complicated” Keypad

One of the main complaints that consumers have with modern electronic devices is the complexity of their remote controls and keypads. While modern electronics might have more features than ever before, manufacturers have done a poor job in reducing complexity in remote control device. According to C-Net, the average home theater owner has more than six remote controls for the various parts of his or her A/V systems. This level of complexity is so high that consumers are reluctant to make additional purchases. The fear is that any new device will add additional remote controls, and thus add even more complicated input devices to their lives.

Reducing the complexity of keypads is important for manufacturers of remote controls and keypads. That said, it can be difficult to create a less-complicated keypad without sacrificing features. The following tips will help engineers and product developers as they try to design silicone keypads that find a good compromise between being feature-filled and simple to use.

Standardized Layout for Numeric Keypads

The type of numeric keypad that consumers have the most experience using is the one that is on phones and keyboard number-pads. For this reason, any other numeric keypad design requires a more active focus on the part of the user. Using standardized layouts for numeric keypads ensures that your consumers can use the keypads without looking at them, which in turn reduces the overall stress levels of users.

Does your device need a numeric keypad at all? Television remotes, for example, all include their own numeric keypads – but they are very rarely used because consumers do not generally memorize the numbers of their favorite channels. If there is an alternative way of inputting numbers on your devices (such as an on-screen numeric keypad that can be navigated with arrow buttons) this might be a better way of simplifying your keypad.

Reduce the Total Number of Buttons

The NN Group, in a study on user experience with input devices, found that there were more than 239 buttons on a typical suite of remote controls used for home/audio systems. The vast majority of these buttons are not used for anything on a regular basis, and these extra buttons actually make it harder to use the input devices because they confuse the user and they clutter the interface and force the designer to make the remaining buttons smaller to accommodate them.

Reducing the total number of buttons is the main way that an interface designer can make their silicone keypad more user-friendly. There are plenty of alternatives to having a keypad that has dozens of extra buttons. Consider making some buttons work “double-duty” by using a modifier switch. Or the remote can have more of the functions controlled through contextual keys or through the use of on-screen prompts. Completely eliminate some of the least-used buttons and put them elsewhere on the device. The buttons can be moved either in user menus or give them button-combinations that can be found in your user manual and used in the rare circumstance that they are actually needed.

Better Labeling

Another common user complaint about interface devices is the poor job that some manufacturers do with labeling. After you produce your silicone keypad with Silicone Dynamics, it will still be necessary for your device manufacturer to include labeling on the bezels (or on the keys) that illustrates the purpose of each key. Some keys can be made self-explanatory by their shape, such as using arrows for the cursor keys. But most keys must be labeled directly.

The biggest problem in labeling is the divide between engineers and the actual users that will be utilizing the devices. Your engineers might know what acronyms mean. But some of these same acronyms (DSP, FQ+, etc…) go over the head of the typical consumer. Using acronyms can make your remote control impossible to utilize without having to consult a manual. For many consumers, this means turning your keypad into a guessing game rather than a useful piece of equipment.

Other Design Suggestions

• If you have input buttons that are ‘paired’, such as a volume-up and a volume-down switch, consider turning this into a single rocker switch. Rocker switches are easy to make with silicone keypads. They are easier for users to understand and to find without looking directly at devices.
• Reduce the overall complexity of your input device by increasing the size of individual buttons. This maximizes space between unrelated buttons. It also means getting rid of all the buttons that are not absolutely necessary.
• Consider using color-coding for different functions to group buttons into different “families” and creating an association for your users. You can color buttons by using different silicone colors, or you can make your silicone buttons translucent, and you can put different lighting underneath each button.
• Cooperate with manufacturers that make complimentary devices! If your device is usually used alongside other similar devices, consider a little cooperation to ensure that standardization makes all of your products more useable. For example, television manufacturers can ensure that the different device remotes work together for different DVD players, etc.