Add 30 Seconds

By Deane Barker on September 21, 2006

Here is a great example of usability: my microwave.

We got a new microwave a few months ago, and it came with a feature I thought was pointless, but has turned out to be about the only way we use the thing now. It’s a button, innocently marked: “Add 30 Seconds.”

If you put something in the microwave and press the button, it starts on normal power for 30 seconds. Keep pressing it and, you guessed it, 30 seconds get added to the time on every press. So to warm something up for a minute, you just throw it in there, close the door, and press the magic button twice.

Here’s why this is a big deal for us: my father-in-law lives with us. He’s 79-years-old. This button is a gold mine for him.

Johnny could never figure out how to work the old microwave. He never knew what time to put anything in for in the first place, but then he couldn’t remember what combination of buttons to push to make it start at that time.

Annie, my wife, rummaged through our box of Band-Aids for the brightest one she could find (we have two girls, aged 4 and 2, so we have plethora of cartoon character Band-Aids), and put a bright yellow one over the button. Now Johnny just has to estimate the size of his food, and press the yellow button a corresponding number of times. For something small, he knows he has to press it once. For something bigger, he presses it two or three times.

And it’s not just Johnny. I know that my oatmeal takes six presses of the button. Microwave pancakes take two, then you add the butter, and they go for one more. Popcorn is about four. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I actually used the time entry and “Start” buttons.

So, there you have an example of a seemingly small thing that completely changes how everyone uses a device. If you’re looking for a microwave, find one with this button. Not only is it ultra-handy, but the usability nut in me smiles every time I use it.



  1. We’ve had a microwave for the past three and a half years that features an “Add 1 Minute” button. Unfortunately, we’ve never gotten into the habit of using it becasue, well, a minute is too large of an increment to be messing around with. We use our popcorn button, sure, but it seems that the two times I most often punch into our microwave are :30 and 1:30 (for small and large items, respectively.)

    Oh, to have a :30 button. What joys that would bring. sigh

  2. Oh yeah, the “Add 30 Seconds” button is my favorite as well. My old microwave had the “Add 1 Minute” button, and I was in the habit of using that most of the time, so when we got the new one, the 30 second increment seemed annoying. But I’ve gotten in the habit of using that for pretty much everything, as well.

    One of the main reasons is that microwave user interfaces are very inconsistent. The terminology used on the buttons is often completely counter-intuitive (“Time Entry” [sounds like clock setting to me], “Time Cook”, “Micro Cook”, “Time”, etc), and every microwave seems to name things differently. Plus, on some you have to push a button, then enter the time to cook, then push Start[/Go/etc]. On others, you just enter the cook time and push Start.

    Since I regularly use 3 microwaves (one at home, and two different ones in the two kitchens at work), it’s annoying to have to keep track of how to enter times on each of them, but, thankfully, they all 3 have ‘Add 30 Seconds’ buttons! 1 press for chicken nuggets for kids, 1-2 presses for reheating pizza, 5 for soup or misc. leftovers, 2-3 for oatmeal, etc. So easy!

  3. Last year, my roommate had a microwave with an “Add 30” button. It was the only way to zap.

    This year, I got a microwave from my brother that has a “Quick Cook 30” button that functions the same way initially — meaning you can press it a number of times to add 30 seconds to the initial cook time, then it starts when you’re done hitting it. But you can’t add 30 seconds after the damn thing starts, so I only have about half of the functionality of the amazing Add 30 button that I’d like ideally.

    The primary casualty is popcorn, because if it’s not done popping you have to let the thing end and then hit the button again, effectively killing the popping groove.

    But it’s better than just a keypad.

  4. Our microwave has the “Add 1 minute” button, but nobody has figured out how exactly it works. Hit it before anything else and it beeps at you. Hit it after you’ve set the time and it still beeps at you. Guess I’ll have to dig out the manual on that.

    … microwave user interfaces are very inconsistent.

    So very true. Years ago I worked at Litton Microwave (remember them?) and discovered what the problem is with the front panel interface; it’s designed by engineers. Seems that many microwave interfaces still are designed by engineers, while others have involved human beings in the process, and have done some things right. Finally.

  5. We also got one of these nice buttons – but even better than this is a rotary knob we got on it – just to simply set the time. Its great to see that the manufacturers moved back from fancy touchpad and have finally arrived at simple intuitive designs that we were already used to.

  6. see, now that’s where i sometimes wonder if, generally speaking, we are taking steps forward or backwards in usability.

    on my microwave, the ‘start’ button is also the instant cook, one minute button – and adds a minute to the cooking time as well. it’s the only button i use too.

    but about 2 years ago, i was using a really old microwave that had the time setting knob – you simply turn it as far as you want to cook for as long as you want. It was so simple, so intuitive, and had great user feedback – if you could see the knob approaching zero, but the food not quite cooked, you could simply turn the knob a little more!

    I have actually seen some state of the art microwaves that still use these dials and knobs as interfaces, and it just seems so logical!

  7. Ahh yes, the blissful, useful, yet so rare little button. My old old m/w had one and I used it lots, then that machine gave up the magnetron and I went to buy another. The smart guy in the shop assured me that the one I had chosen had a ‘one press=thirty seconds’ button, but when I tried it out at home I was annoyed to find out that actually it was 10s-10s-10s-START. Hmmph. Now hubby’s having that machine and I find myself in need of another – can I find one with this button anywhere? Sigh, I cannot. Not even Google is much help. 30s = baby’s bottle. Twice = reheat my cold tea. Thrice = the girls’ bedtime milks. Come on you manufacturers out there – take note of what we want! Give us a 30s button!

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