1=54: How can a tv remote be this bad?

This spaceship (or is it a tv remote?) has 54 buttons on it. 54 (not even counting the screen).

Out of those 54, most people only use a couple often (on/off, volume, channels).. To put it lightly, the spaceship probably isn’t as easy to use as it should be. How is it that, other than apple’s tv remote, every one of these companies gets it so wrong?

It comes down to the way they look at the product experience and in my mind, the only objective for any product is to make 1=1, which, though it may seem abstract, means that a product should be no more, no less, than what it is.

In other words, a thing is a thing.

As a product manager, this age-old way of looking at what people make gives a sense of principle to the product vision. Very rarely accomplished, trying to find 1=1 ends up giving true clarity to what is most important, and how a given thing could be done in the best possible way. Lets go through some examples:

Note: a. All of these can be broken down into extreme detail, but I’m going to keep it short here (will break some things down some other time)

B. Yes, I have heard that mathematically it can be proven that 1=2. If someone can prove how that applies to the real world, please let me know.


1=x — Front end of this Pontiac G5

By no means am I a car expert, but there is nothing that brings the parts of this front end together. The lights, the logo, the grill, each stick out. So, it could be said that instead of the front end being the front end, the front end is the lights, grill and the logo (among other things).

1=1 — Front end of this classic Aston Martin

The front end on this Aston Martin just seems to be part of the rest of the car, why is that? I’ll leave that to car designers to pick out the details, but clearly there is more going on in the front, not less (the curvature for example). It is a perfect example of how ADDING things can actually make it into 1.


1=2 — siding of this house

Same can be applied to a house. The windows and the siding are 2 seperate entities, along with the roof. The side just isn’t the side, the house doesn’t go together (not to mention the specifics of the windows).

1=1 — FLW Charles L. Manson House

This is a prime example of adding being subtracting, notice the half circle in the middle left (blocked by the tree), the lines and style of the windows. Everything seems to be a part of itself. There are so many buildings to choose from, but this simple house, no more complicated than the one cited before and with lines on its siding, is as good an example as any. This man’s work, with the materials he had at his disposal, is definitive 1=1.

Environmental Architecture


I heard someone once say when comparing a brutalist and deconstructivist building, “These would be alright if the streets didn’t ruin them.” May or may not have gone too far, but the roads aren’t the only thing not allowing this to go together.


Much better.


Software interfaces=function, focus points, or, if 1=1, both are together.

Focus points can be taught, but one primary focus point is best. By focus points, I mean where your eyes (or even when you feel without looking, like with a tv remote) track to when using an interface. Generally, on mobile for example, you’ll have your control focus points, and the main part of the screen.

Old Apple music — 1=7 functions

1=3 focus points

On most days, I’d consider the bottom bar 3–5 focus points on mobile. However, pragmatically on mobile it is small enough to see all 4/5 buttons so I’ll give it 1 focus point. The other 2 focus points are the top left and top right. Notice I don’t consider the main screen a focus point, this is because the main focus point many times depends on the medium, not the specific interface.

The functional problem with Apple music isn’t that there are 7 buttons, it is on mobile there isn’t one place to access all previously played and added music (like Amazon before their redesign). The core functionality isn’t pulled together, a prime case where form could improve function. They could probably get away with 7 if the standard screen was your easily malleable playlist (which would be alternated by the functions). Instead, it ends up being somewhat disjointed; manageable, but not “magical.”

Hardware/industrial interfaces

1=1 — The Iphone

It could be said that the main button isn’t the only one, but it is the main functional control, which is what matters in this case. The screen itself also could be said to be another, but what happens inside the lens is different than the lens itself.

1=3 — Samsung galaxy

Having had an android phone before, I can say I used all 2 of the 3 buttons often (back and main control), while not trying or figuring out the app selection for quite a while. Pragmatically, I’m sure they would say they are needed, and I can’t necessarily disagree with them. Could they be combined? That is what makes product creation so interesting, the possibilities of how it can be accomplished can seem endless, but it is also possible to make it worse if done poorly.

Spaceships, buildings, and interfaces, they all shape the world we live in. It could be functional, or media, but regardless, a thing represents a people’s beliefs (religion) about their lives and the nature of the world, the norms and culture of the society it is built in, along with its time and particular place. Generalities like minimalism (which doesn’t exist) do nothing to describe what it is, it must be broken down. Principles take a lifetime to develop, but to me, the main goal for any thing is for it to be 1.

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