Design or Die
If there’s one thing the worldwide success of the iPod teaches us, it’s the importance of design. Once more, Apple is showing the world that if your product makes sense, your message is clear and your design rocks, you’re in for the big league. Two out of three won’t cut it – you need them all.
The grapes must’ve been quite sour for Sim Wong Hoo, Creative’s brilliant founder and CEO and Apple’s biggest competitor on the player front. Commenting on the launch of the iPod Shuffle, Apple’s youngest offspring, he grumbled that it was really five generations behind his MuVo One product line. In fact, it was “worse than the cheapest Chinese player. I think it’s a non-starter to begin with.” I’m a great admirer of SWH and I agree with him on many things, but on this one I beg to differ. Design is king, and the unstoppable iPod marketing machine will take care of the rest. Time for Creative to get creative, I guess.
So what does this have to do with mobile phones? Everything. And no, I’m not joining the legions of rumour-fuelling fans who fill countless chat rooms with speculations on upcoming iPhone launches. That’s not going to happen anyway, believe me. But the iPod story does speak volumes about what’s going on in today’s mobile phone market. Or rather, should be going on. ‘Cuz it ain’t. Let me explain.
What the iPod success shows us is that you can take a gadget market, indeed any gadget market, to the next level if you pay attention to what I’d like to call the four Cs of design: clarity, convenience, comfort, and coolness.
‘Clarity’ means clarity of function. If it’s a phone, it’s a phone. If it’s something else, then tell people what it is. The gadget’s form should follow that function – don’t try to distract your users with unnecessary clutter and unrelated functions.
‘Convenience’ means that products should satisfy consumer needs. People need phones. People need cameras. They don’t necessarily need cameras in phones, unless they work like real cameras. Made any pictures with your camera phone lately? That’s what I mean. And don’t get me started on eight-seconds video recorders.
‘Comfort’ means user-friendliness. Make it easy to use. A Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) is not a guarantee. The iPod shows you don’t even need one. GUIs can work wonders if they offer users a clear path through many functions, but if they don’t, they can be a user nightmare. Ever tried to figure out the Connection Manager on PocketPC phones? Don’t, unless you have a calm mind and a day off.
And finally, coolness. Coolness has everything to do with the product’s message. That message has to be clear and in sync with the product and its intended use. Steve Jobs with his jeans and black turtlenecks is Mr Coolness himself, but you don’t need a Jobs to do the trick (although it helps). But you do need a strong brand. Don’t have one? Build one, like Samsung did. And once you have it, don’t let it go, like Sony and Ericsson.
What about Nokia? Almost from the beginning Nokia has been the strongest and coolest brand in the market. And it still is, although it’s in danger. Nokia made its reputation with nice, clear designs, not only the outer shells but also brilliant, menu-driven interfaces. Once you’d had a Nokia, you wanted nothing else. But the rules of the game changed, with colour screens, GUIs, and all kinds of additional functions. Nokia lost focus, and is still fighting to regain traction.
Will Nokia become Coolness Supremo again? Or will Samsung bring pole position to Asia? Or will an outsider take over with a completely new approach? We’ll see.