Posted by: Burth Helm on August 10, 2006
Yesterday my thumbs taught me a powerful lesson: a brilliantly-designed product is not just great for grabbing consumers’ eyes on the street, or for helping define a brand. Brilliant design can work as a dangerous and destructive weapon against competitors.
What am I talking about? I just tried out the new LG “Chocolate,”
a sexy-looking phone cum digital music player that Verizon started hawking on July 31. It looks like a close cousin of the iPod, with a slim and simple piano-black body that slides shut to hide the number keys. When I saw it on my colleague’s desk, I raced over to check it out. It looked seriously cool. I wanted one.
Then I tried to use it.
This may sound silly, but I couldn’t get my thumbs to work the controls. Longing for my iPod, my right thumb kept trying to scroll by spinning around the wheel. The Chocolate’s “wheel” is actually a four-way button pad. But spinning my thumb is now so ingrained in my muscle memory, that I couldn’t do anything else. I repeatedly screwed everything up on the device by pushing the wrong buttons in a circular pattern. I got fed up and gave it back to my colleague. I wanted my iPod back. It’s how I imagine a good mp3 player feels like, not just how it looks.
I wonder, would a consumer from 2000 feel the same way? The user interface on the Chocolate is straightforward enough. If I had never experienced the brilliant intuitiveness of the iPod wheel, would I love Chocolate? I don’t know. I’ve been unconsciously trained to find all competing designs impossible.