A microwave oven is supposed to be a convenient way to heat up a meal, pop some popcorn, warm some milk, or myriad other simple cooking tasks. It’s a welcome alternative to much slower options like an oven or stove.
First introduced as a device to save time for specific cooking tasks, the microwave is now an appliance that aims to perform every cooking task. You’ll often find highly specific settings for things like cooking a turkey or adjusting the power level in individual percentage point increments. It’s not uncommon for the modern microwave to have more than 30 buttons. It’s gotten out of control.
The modern microwave is a case study for a product that has continually added new features and capability without reconsidering the holistic experience and the usage patterns of customers. While each individual addition may have sold an incremental microwave, they weren’t later held accountable for the complexity they brought to the whole.
How many of the features added to microwaves in the past 40 years are used by the majority of microwave users? Are people really cooking a turkey in their microwave? If they are, is it more than once per year? Do they really need to be able to set the power level to 43%?
Not only are the additions likely underutilized, they complicate the process of using a microwave for the everyday use cases. When you try to address every use case, you end up not solving any of them well.
What if your microwave only had 3 buttons – one to add 30 seconds, one to remove 15 seconds, and one to cancel? That might seem extreme, but it would likely get closer to how people actually use these appliances instead of trying to solve every possible use case.
Even well-intentioned additions to a product or experience, that give people more options or capability, will eventually lead to a complex, unfocused product if not reconsidered and pruned from time to time.