One of the first lessons in usability is that people vary and that designing for ‘average’ doesn’t work.  Nowhere is this more true than in the highly competitive world of mobile phone design.

Actually I don’t want a new mobile because I have an iPhone and I love it.  Of course, it’s not perfect but once again Apple has demonstrated that it understands the importance of the ‘user experience’.  Even its cardboard box is beautiful.

However, many people will want a new phone, even if they have a perfectly good one already.  The idea that anyone would keep using the same mobile phone till it wore out seems rather quaint.

One reason for the frequent upgrades is that as we do more and more on our phones, the more frustrated we become with fiddly buttons, obscure menu items and tortuous navigation. 

We are seduced by the promise of the next upgrade solving all our problems.  And indeed, it might solve a few, but, of course, it will also bring in some new ones.  Some manufacturers seem to make the same mistakes again and again, but the more creative ones manage to surprise us with completely new usability bloopers.

As usual, the answer is to follow an ergonomics/human-centred design approach:

  1. Know who is going to use the product to do what, where.
     
  2. Build the best you can with existing knowledge and then.
     
  3. Test it with real users till you (and they) can live with the results.

The vital first step in human-centred design is to be absolutely clear about the target user, and this brings me back to the point, new mobile phones.  When System Concepts recently worked on the Cocoon music phone for O2, I acted as one of our pilot users to ensure our test facilities were properly configured (they were).

One of the issues we tested concerned what happens when you are listening to your music and the phone rings.  I thought the answer was obvious.  The music stops immediately and you answer the call – it might be a client. 

I don’t remember what was decided in the end, but I do know that some of the target users (young music lovers) did not want the music to stop.  Their friends would text so a call was probably from their parents!

One of the first lessons in usability is that people vary and that designing for ‘average’ doesn’t work.  Nowhere is this more true than in the highly competitive world of mobile phone design.

Have a great Christmas, and if you do get a new phone – enjoy!


Tom Stewart is MD of



System Concepts