Designing user-friendly technology
A Design Council case study

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Page 5: User trials

The next stage was to check that the design features were appropriate and valued by potential consumers. Trials were carried out on a test sample of consumers. Test participants were required to make a call, access the phone’s directory system and store a name and number in the phone’s memory. To make the test more realistic, participants were given no instructions and so were entirely reliant on the phone’s interface.

Whilst all of the above was taking place, MPC was agreeing the terms of a contract with the manufacturer. This was a difficult task for both parties as some of the details of the final design were unknown. The contract was eventually to stipulate prices, schedules and minimum production volumes. MPC agreed to give the manufacturer ownership of the industrial design of the phone, while MPC would retain ownership of the interface, ensuring that it could be used on future handsets from other manufacturers. IDEO gave their completed design work to the manufacturer. It included the three dimensional block models and Computer Aided Design drawing, the computer simulation and a document describing the interface in more detail. This ended IDEOs involvement in the project.

The manufacturer’s software engineers took the IDEO/MPC design work and began to interpret it in order to define the phone’s software specification and plan its production. This work required intense communication between MPC and the manufacturer. The handset’s design incorporated a battery and accessory pack identical to the manufacturer’s other products. This meant that the overall form of the phone was virtually unchanged from the handset on whose technology the One 2 One item was based. As Terry Taylor - the manufacturer’s industrial designer explained “MPC had an image in mind and brought in an outside designer. We received sketches from them relating the general feel that they wanted, but it didn’t relate to our technology base. The elliptical theme and MMI in these proposals did give the unit its character though and they also were responsible for the colours and graphics of the unit. We actually went through several iterations with MPC giving their input before completing the final model.”

Tooling and testing

The manufacturer now set about tooling up for production in bulk, using CAD and computer simulations. Twelve months after the first speculative ideas were sketched, the first components were produced. Accelerated life testing was used to simulate the phone’s usage over its lifetime and to prove its durability under all climatic conditions.

Gary’s role now changed from that of product champion and innovator to that of project manager. He was responsible for ensuring that production took place as planned and to schedule, liaising between engineers of the handset, network manufacturer and within MPC.

Mercury wanted a number of phones to be produced quickly so that they could be tested “for real” using their existing network. The initial testing caused a number of complications because there were so many technological unknowns. Throughout the testing procedures, MPC was also negotiating type approval from the DTI. An interim approval was obtained in time for the planned launch, though final approval was not due to be given until the network was fully operational.

Design Council | Designing user-friendly technology