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One: The Truly Universal Smart Remote

How a gift to my parents (in 2011) lead me to discover how difficult it is to use a 'universal' remote


Way back in 2011, while visiting my parents, I saw them use as many as 3 remotes to use a TV, a DVD player and a cable set-top box. So I gifted them a Philips universal remote that replaced these three remotes with one.

A few days later, I noticed them still using the three remotes instead of their all-new 'Universal remote'. So I got a little curious.

This project and designs was conceived in 2011 and yet it resonates even today.

Understanding the problem

So to understand what was discouraging my parents from using the Universal remote I sat down with them. On investigating I found out that they did not find the new remote any helpful instead they found it extremely overwhelming and complicated to use.

In addition to that, the no. of buttons and functionalities were also causing a lot of difficulties for them to use the existing remotes. Somehow they had created a certain workflow around using the existing remotes which they didn't want to learn again with the new remote.

Remotes under consideration
Most used features
Least used features
Tiered solution

Traditional remotes have lots of buttons. Each button is meant for a unique feature and they remain there all the time.

I did some research by interviewing some friends and family to identify the most commonly used features on TV, cable and DVD players.

I created tiered versions of the remotes with 3 tiers for the most complex ones. Based on the frequency of usage, these buttons were placed in different tiers. Eg: on a TV remote Volume Up/Down and Program Up/Down, a mute button were most frequently used features along with the 4 directional keys. So I placed them in the most essential and top tier of the remote.

Similarly, the frequency of changing screen brightness and other features are rarely used so they were put in the lowest priority tier 3.

I chose a black screen with outlined buttons or very light background to conserve energy and save battery life as well as be soothing to eyes while using the remote in darker rooms while watching TV shows and movies.

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