One of the hardest stages of the design process is to understand user requirements. Part of the difficulty is that it starts out easy. The requirements for someone to use a cell phone are making a call, checking voice mail, caller ID, call waiting, call forwarding, and a long list of functions that every cell phone supports. The challenge is to implement these features in a way that is not just easy for users but also satisfies the “edge cases.” Edge cases are the less common scenarios that really separate good designs from average ones. They are worth pursuing because they differentiate your product from the competition and give customers a reason to choose your product.
Take for example a simple function on a cell phone – the clock. I am sure every cell phone has one. But there are differences that make some better than others, especially for the edge cases. In a previous post, I described my recent switch from a Motorola cell phone to a Sony Ericsson one. They implement the clock function very differently. The Motorola always had the clock visible as long as the phone was on, even in standby mode. I stopped wearing a watch because I always had this with me. I even used when teaching classes when there wasn’t a wall clock in the room. I just put the phone (on silent of course) on the table and all I had to do was walk by and I could see the clock.
But on my Sony, you have to push a button or open the flip to get the clock to appear. This is distracting to my students because they think I am checking my phone. The same problem happens in business meetings. I don’t know how many people have needs like this, but it’s got to be substantial. I don’t even know if I would call this an edge case, just a regular use case. I think Sony made this decision to maximize battery life. But at least make it an option. I could keep the clock visible during classes and meetings and then back to the original mode at other times.
They got the basic function right – the phone has a clock. But they didn’t look into the use cases that would make the clock more useful.