Reset the Swing Timer

Last week we took a family road trip, and as a result I spent a lot of time driving the van through beautiful weather… but also a lot of time driving the van through rain. Owego, NY is a nice quaint town which we discovered has the tiny little downside of actually being buried in water for part of each day. We also hit the remains of something apparently called “thundersnow” on the way out of Pennsylvania.

What struck me while fiddling with the windshield wipers was a cool feature that I haven’t seen on any car I’ve owned before: when I turned the dial to increase the intermittent speed, the wipers always immediately swing (even if they weren’t due to swing yet). This is a subtle thing and it only makes a second or two of difference, but it seems to me a brilliant example of thoughtful design. The only real reason anybody would turn the dial is because they need more wiping, and they need it now, so why not oblige with not just a faster interval, but an immediate wipe?

As soon as I thought about this I was reminded of video games – it’s fairly common in Action RPGs to have an ability that temporarily increases the potency of your weapon swings, and some of these abilities actually do the same thing: they reset the swing timer so that as soon as you hit the button, you immediately get to see an attack with the new ability. It’s a nice visceral effect that gives an increased sense of control and feedback.

A similar scenario comes up in software development occasionally – I’ve seen a particular case where there’s a setting that allows changes on a web page to be immediately “auto-applied” (vs. having to queue them up and click Accept later on). If a particular user prefers the auto-apply feel, they almost certainly want any changes already queued up to be applied immediately when they turn on auto-apply. Having to turn on auto-apply but then still go click Accept is unnecessary extra work.

I’m not sure if there’s a term for this design principle of tacking on an immediate effect to a rate-modifying adjustment. I couldn’t find any references online, but without Google keywords it’s hard to know what to look for. In any case, it’s a good one to consider whenever you’re designing a switch or dial that impacts future state or user actions – is there any way to give the user an immediate effect that they likely want? Furnace manufacturers already have this figured out; they make very sure that when you crank up the heat on the thermostat there’s some kind of immediate reassuring audible or tactile feedback.



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