Don Norman: Designing For People

Nielsen Norman Group

The Hilton Hotel Alarm Clock Reconsidered

A few years ago I wrote in praise of the Hilton Alarm Clock. I pointed out that hotel alarm clocks are often miserable. They are purchased on price rather than on ease of use, and beleive me, late at night when groggily setting an alarm clock, ease of use is of paramount importance.

I said that "frequent travelers have come to detest (in other words, hate) the alarm clocks provided by most hotels." And then I praised the Hilton Hotel chain for designing a special alarm clock that was easy to use, with just the features guests want.

I take it all back. Nice try Hilton, but there is one other important feature you neglected to provide: the alarm clock has to tell the correct time.

I myself have experienced Hilton clocks with incorrect time. Irate users of the clocks have written me to tell me i was wrong in my praise, for not only is the time often wrong, but there is no way to correct it. (Actually, there is a way, but it requires you to unscrew the back and get into the innards. Not recommended.) Why is it designed this way? Because the goal was to avoid guests or hotel staff who would accidentally set the wrong time. This is meant to be a radio-controlled clock that always sets itself properly.

Hilton: Try again. This one was a nice try. Time for a new, improved version.

Meanwhile, if you want a good alarm clock, carry your own. I highly recommend the clocks on modern smart phones which take advantage of their numerical keypads and large, attractive displays.

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