Mobile Phones: microDesign

Till now, all Design-related posts talked about design issues that were directly perceptible to us. Like shape/colour, layout, or work-flow. But today, I am going to discuss a design point that is “minute” in nature.. i.e. beyond what our senses can easily detect.

Mobile phones. A device that is used by everybody today. Not just to talk, but to do absolutely everything.. But using the same buttons/touchscreen. So often, we are playing a game, say, and vigorously jabbing some menu key. And then a call comes.. and you accidentally disconnect it. Nothing could be more irritating.

So, let us understand in slow motion, what are the events happening in that fraction of a second: your mind is playing the game, and you are pressing the buttons in some fashion according to some calculation in your mind. Then, a phone comes, the first to know was the mobile.. it flashed the screen.. your eyes pick it up, your brain is told, and then the fingers pause. So now, the really crucial question is: when does the menu button’s function switch over from the game to the “Answer” key, or, say, “Reject” key? A well designed mobile will do this switch only after allowing a calculated delay from the first time the screen is flashed.

Now, this calculated delay, which equals the total response time of the eyes->brain->finger action, must be in the order of a fraction of a second. But, if the mobile does wait for that much time, consider how much it suddenly adds to the user experience! The user would just ‘know’ somehow that the device is better, but the reason is beyond their ordinary sense of perception.

(Note that even in the very old analog land-line phones, this issue is present: instead of a visual signal, we have a loud audio bell, and instead of a button-press, we pick up the handset.)

An interesting point that this raises: It might very much be the case that someone thought of this many years ago. But during the times of the first phones, it might not be possible to engineer such minute time delays into systems. And today, with microchips, this is doable. This shows that just having great ideas is not enough.. your production technology must keep in step with the requirements of your ideas, which keep growing.

I think that the world is full of so many opportunities of microDesign, that can simply change the way we do things, without actually feeling any change.

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