A bit over a year ago I ordered a microwave oven after looking at the ratings and comments on the internet. I didn’t spend a lot of time in research, since our old one had failed and a microwave has become very central to our lives, and I figured by now they would have become fairly standardized. When it arrived, it didn’t work. I therefore returned it, after a fair amount of hassle, and bought another brand, which was also highly recommended. The new one worked, but only slightly beyond the one year warranty, and after finding that repairing it would take more time, effort, and money than I considered it worth, I bought yet another brand, which so far is working beautifully—I do like to fix things, but I have to draw the line at some point.
In past posts I have spent a lot of time on product quality, and have mentioned the eight dimensions of quality discussed in a classic paper written by David Garvin and published by the Harvard Business review in 1987, when quality was the hot word, rather than innovation. They are :
The bottom two are not discussed in detail, because as Garvin pointed out, they are difficult to handle analytically and matters of personal feelings.
In 2012 I wrote my book Good Products, Bad Products, published by McGraw Hill, to pay more attention to critical “dimensions” of quality that even though difficult to deal with quantitatively, are very important to human user. The Chapter titles are:
PERFORMANCE, COST AND PRICE
EMOTIONS AND NEEDS
SYMBOLISM AND CULTURAL FIT
Although the oven came up short on my list, let us focus on Garvin’s list. As far as aesthetics, my short-lived oven, although not what one would call exciting, was probably okay, because microwave ovens seem to have adopted a clean, sterile, technological look, and, do have fairly standard approaches to turntables, transparent door panels, latches, and so on. As far as perceived quality, the product certainly is visible enough in stores and on the internet and the maker is an old established company, so that one would think that it is of high quality. One of Garvin’s other dimensions, conformance, has to do with whether the product conforms to various regulations, and here it has to follow the rules, or it would not be sold.
But on the others, it does not do well, because it failed (performance,reliability, and durability) is difficult to service, and like many “modern” appliances suffered from the ecstacy designers feel when they realize the power and low cost of modern electronics—trying to include too many features.
The photo shows the control panel, and herein lies the problem. Forgive the reflections in the photo, because it is a shiny black surface that reflects confusing images at all times, which does not help the user read its relatively delicate script, To make matters worse, the text is not lit , which forced me to hang a battery-operated LED light on a wall at a weird angle so that the words could be read without being blinded by the light itself.
But I had two more major problems with the controls. The first had to do with the functions themselves. Of course, it is necessary to memorize the part of the manual describing the function of most of them (custom set, the difference between auto defrost and express defrost, soften, melt, less, more ) because they are not standardized across ovens or foods, and to experiment a great deal to find out what such pads as “potato”, “rice”, and “popcorn” actually accomplish, since they do not usually result in outcomes the user desires. But I am used to living with such things in these days when manufacturers are attempting to make products appear smarter than they are, and consumers have fantasies of perfect automatic machines and the fantasy is so important than they will accept poor performance.
But my main problems with the controls was that they failed, and at a slow enough rate that I never returned the oven until it failed completely, at which point the warranty had expired. Very early the potato and reheat buttons quit doing their job, but it is easy to live without them. But over time the remainder kept failing. While the timer still worked we could still use it since we are experienced with these ovens, and when it failed, we could even go with start and stop, but finally they too gave up. At one point, I actually began looking for replacement parts, but by that time I hated the oven so much I thought it deserved to die.
While fighting this dying beast, I could not help noticing our gas stove, which I bought used in 1962 and that, does everything one would want to do as far as cooking is concerned —warming, boiling, frying, stewing, baking, broiling, and even keeping time and automatically turning things on and off— almost total control of cooking for over 50 years, with only occasional needs for cleaning and a bit of tuning up. Near to it is our 20 year old refrigerator, which has served us faithfully with no maintenance yet, and also a Kitchen Aid mixer that is not only 50 years old, but, if you would, has never missed a beat.
So why do we accept this “digital device” attitude (everyone should have a new one every year)? Granted it makes money for companies, but give us a break. Products should be adequately tested during development, especially if they contain such things as touch pads. Tools should last long enough before failing that we can integrate them into our lives, or at least learn to use them well before they fail. I love our veteran stove, refrigerator, and mixture. And I loved the earlier microwave ovens we owned. We bought our present one (that we like a lot) because it had fewer control options and mechanical controls rather than a touch pad matrix. And the labels on the controls do not require the owner’s manual for interpretation. Assuming it holds up for several years, I will grow to love it.
I never did find out the difference between auto defrost and express defrost.