ProductYVR: Ghost in the Machine
ProductYVR’s inaugural gathering saw a presentation by Kharis O’Connell, Director of User Experience at Global Mechanic and Creative Design Lead for Nokia. Kharis was here to talk to us about how a very small product with a very small feature set created a very large disruption within a very large company.
Pull Tomorrow from Yesterday
During O’Connell’s tenure, Nokia was at a crossroads. The ultrageeky N900 had failed to oust the iPhone from its place in customers’ hearts. Indeed, it was perhaps-patronizingly deemed too complicated for the American market, which probably says more about the phone than the market. Why would you produce something that you’d then turn around and deem “too complicated”?
Kharis and his colleagues reckoned the problem wasn’t the feature set of the phone, but how it was presented. How could the creative team strip away those layers of obfuscation to reconnect person to person, getting back to the entire point of a mobile phone?
Kharis turned to an unlikely inspiration: John’s Phone, easily the most stripped-down mobile phone imaginable. No touchscreen. No front-facing screen at all, in fact. No voicemail, no text messaging, no apps, no nothing; nothing except a keypad and the person on the other end of the call.
John’s Phone looks like a cross between a pager and a garage-door opener. The buttons go *click*. The slim screen at the top tells you which numbers you punched in, but not the number of the incoming call. You’re suddenly back in the early Eighties. You get an address book. A paper address book, with a few paper-based games thrown in. Don’t worry, though, because John’s Phone comes with a little pen. There’s a message section: tear out a page with a hand-scribbled note and pass it to a lover or friend.
Beauty is in the Eye…
We found ourselves marveling at this device, curious at how we’d feel if were sent back to a mode of communication last seen during our adolescence.
After a month of using only John’s Phone, Kharis and his colleagues came back to the table with a new outlook on how a smartphone fits into our lives. It’s not a showcase of raw computing power, but a tool to help us stay close to people that matter.
The result was the Nokia N9: the same guts as its predecessor, with a much more people-friendly interface.
The Object Lesson
After Kharis’ presentation, we split into groups to discuss the pros and cons of a simple handset like John’s phone. Unsurprisingly, many of the same features were perceived as both pro and con, depending on who was looking at it. We judge a product first with our feelings, and then with our brains.
Kharis O’Connell left us with this message before we all headed down the road for a nightcap: Nokia is no longer making phones… but John’s Phone still is.
ProductYVR was presented by the Holon Group, and held at the Railtown offices of domain7. If you’re interested in the humanity in technology (and the technology in humanity), keep an eye on the Holon Group’s Twitter feed.