October 22, 2021

The one-button interface

Recently I visited a sort of airsoft gun range. They had rooms with different set ups and challenges. In some of these rooms, they can run different types of games.

I was in one of these rooms and what caught my attention is how the operator selected and started the different games.. with a one-button interface. All he had is a yellow box with a single red button. He hits the button in different sequences to trigger different commands.

I initially thought that must be inconvenient. And the more I thought about it, the more I disliked it. I started thinking about how they must have had to program the controller to handle such commands. And the thoughts started snowballing from there. What is the on-going maintenance and the documentation of these commands like? What about onboarding new operators? That would be unnecessarily time consuming.

If it works for them, then that's good enough, right? What I consider inconvenient is irrelevant here. I'm glad I can easily interact with most software I use with more than just one button.

But what I considered inconvenient is actually necessary in a different context. What I described above is some sort of a single switch entry device. People who are unable to use a mouse or keyboard need an alternative input device, and a single switch entry device is one example of assistive technology that can be used instead.

What I considered inconvenient to myself actually makes interacting with computers and smart phones possible for many.