Designing user-friendly technology
A Design Council case study

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Page 4: Development

Design Council 2 Image 3In response to this, Marc developed a list of characteristics suggested by the brand values. These were gradually translated into design goals – for example, “curved” and “organic” design themes became linked to “slow curves and generous radiusing for human fit.” Hand drawn sketches were produced to develop ideas for the visual theme. A man-machine interface (MMI) was created around a “soft key” – a button which can trigger more than one operation.

The second meeting with the manufacturer was a fortnight later and the pressure was intense. Communication between MPC and IDEO was frequent and informal. Gary and Marc returned to the manufacturer with a basis for the interface design relying on a single prominent “soft key,” this would form the major interface between the user and a menu system. The key was initially to be placed inside the LCD display area and the operating system of the phone would be assigned to the user’s most likely next action. The display would use a text message next to the key to describe its action – for example if the user entered a number the phone’s operating system would assume that the user wanted to call that number and the word “CALL” would appear next to the soft key. Pressing the key would cause the phone to dial the number entered.

Marc presented eight possible visual themes for the phone and these were discussed in turn. Features that worked well were highlighted and those that did not were rejected. Two were eventually chosen to form the basis for further work, though features from some of the rejected designs were to be incorporated later. The display proved to be a major discussion point. Gary and Marc wanted a more complex display than the manufacturer had used previously, with smaller icons and text to enable more information to be presented - this was essential for the viability of the proposed interface design. The manufacturer resisted the change at first, citing their previous problems with legibility. After considerable technical discussion the manufacturer was persuaded and the complex display was approved.

Refining the design

Two months were spent refining the design. The design and engineering of the handset was to be carried out by the manufacturer’s own industrial designers but in close consultation with IDEO. During this period one of the manufacturer’s industrial designers called on IDEO. During the visit it became clear that the manufacturer would only allow flexibility in design of the front moulding/keys and flip. This would place a constraint on the design and would severely limit the opportunities of achieving the preferred design direction. Marc and Gary therefore agreed that IDEO would develop two main “families” - with and without these restrictions. Gary wanted to continue pressurising the manufacturer’s own designers to be more visionary.

The next step was to produce a “virtual prototype” ie a virtual presentation of the phone on a computer screen. This was much cheaper and quicker than producing an actual prototype. By using the PC’s mouse to locate and “press” the buttons on the phone’s keypad, a user could utilise all the phone’s functions. The display changed on the screen to mimic the actual phone and sampled sounds completed the model by simulating dialling tones etc.

Design Council | Designing user-friendly technology