User Interface Design?

We have a relatively new dishwasher.  It’s very nice, and has a cool display that tells you what’s going on, it’s the only visible control when it’s closed. For instance when it starts the cycle, it tells you that now is a fine time to add that glass you just finished drinking from, and no, you didn’t miss anything yet in terms of washing awesomeness.

Or at least, that’s what it’s trying to do.  It has a fatal user interface flaw that prevented this from happening one memorable time.

Nikki’s Mom and Dad were over watching the boys for us one weekend while we were away, and decided (rather uncharacteristically) that they would run the dishwasher.  The boys helped out, they loaded everything up, and the boys helped to put the soap packet thing in.  They even pushed the right button (a very good choice in user interface) called Start.

The dishwasher then starts to make a few muted sounds, there’s a bit of water running, etc.  On the display, a somewhat tentative pair of grandparents and two young boys looked and saw this:

Add a dish

They looked at each other, and came to the only sensible conclusion:  they must not have put enough dishes into the dishwasher.  “Add a dish” the display says in ominous red.

Needless to say they opened the dishwasher and added a dish, whatever was close at hand, maybe something not yet ready for the wash yet, but hey.  Restart the cycle, close the door, and there it was:

Add a dish

The next logical thing was, we must not have added the right dish.  That’s a bit of a poser of a problem, because at some point they start to wonder how in the hell does the dishwasher know what dishes are in there?  Nevertheless, they gamely try to figure out what dish is missing, what is the special dish the dishwasher needs to run?

You might have figured out that the fatal flaw of this interface is essentially summed up as lacking a single question mark.  If that glowing red message said “Add a Dish?” there would have been no question in anyone’s mind that it was indeed optional, and poor Paul and Darlene would not have stuffed the dishwasher full of every darn dish in the house in an effort to satisfy the implacable smug machine.

Ramble back at me....