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Hi! I’m Vicky, A professional ergonomist who spends time in the wilds of the real world

Ever cooked a ready meal wrong?

Ever cooked a ready meal wrong?

Sometimes instructions can so nearly get it right, but lose it in really peculiar ways…  Take this Chicken Katsu Curry which caught me out the other week.  

We don’t have a microwave so if we are having a night off from proper cooking, we always have to check that there is another method cooking a ready meal.  In the supermarket, check the back, oven cook instructions, brilliant.

On closer inspection when starting to cook at home - these are not two options for cooking the food, but two separate sets of instructions - one for the chicken and one for the rice and sauce.  

Chicken Katsu Instructions

As ever with these everyday errors, I am left wondering is this me or is it the design?  Don Norman tells us that we tend to blame ourselves for these errors rather than looking at the design - so what could have led me into this error?

  1. I believe there is a norm for cooking instructions which this packaging does not meet.  There are often multiple sets of instructions to describe different methods of cooking the same thing.

  2. The way the instructions are laid out with the two table areas going all the way to the edge of the box, indicating two separate sets of instructions

So, how could it be better?

  1. An overview of the instructions at the start, stating “Oven cook the chicken and microwave cook the rice and sauce” rather than putting these two statements in what could be interpreted as separate sections.

  2. Use a header for each section which refers to the item being cooked rather than the method of cooking, so “Chicken” rather than “Oven cook’

  3. Present the overall sequence of tasks to cook the whole meal, rather than two sets of instructions.  At the moment while the first tasks are correctly listed for the chicken, the instruction to “slice chicken before serving” appears before the instructions for the rice and sauce.  I have seen this done on some of the supermarket “take away meal” boxes which saves a lot of mental arithmetic errors as you work out how many minutes after the chicken korma goes in you need to start cooking the onion bhajis.

  4. The tables with the cooking time could be within the presented within the set of instructions, rather than appearing as a section divider.

Have you ever had similar experiences with instructions on food packaging - I would love to see your examples of good and bad designs.

Five Stars for usability

Five Stars for usability

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