Sunday, March 04, 2007

Cellphones are the new couture

Ethnography in addition to ergonomics influences cell phone design ...

"The clumsy brick phones of two decades ago were merely utilitarian; the very act of talking on the phone while driving or walking around exuded cool. But as the cellphone market has exploded - from 340,000 subscribers in 1985 to 220 million today - the act of calling has lost its intrinsic decadence.

... While handset makers have always paid attention to style, consumer tastes are transforming electronics companies used to competing based on technology into fashion houses. As recently as five years ago, cellphones “were just being sold and positioned as a phone”" said Matt Lewis, a director at research firm ARCchart. “The Razr was never sold as a phone; the [LG] Chocolate was never sold as a phone - they were sold as something sexy.”

... “That ‘s the big challenge we’ve identified with the manufacturers,” Lewis said. “Once you get into a paradigm where the majority of customers are going into stores and buying handsets based on how it looks, you are basically a fashion company - and if you don't understand that industry you are going to fail.”

That’s something most handset makers are acutely aware of: The days of cellphone makers working as engineering operations in which designers would be asked to slap a shell on a circuit board are over.

Nokia employs ethnographers and design teams; some employees just travel all over the world watching how people interact with objects, according to spokesman Keith Nowak. Motorola has a “colours, materials, finishes, trends forecasting team,” a materials sciences team, and a human factors team that studies the ergonomics of interacting with a device, according to Jim Wicks, vice president and director of Consumer Experience Design."    (Continued via The Financial Press)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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