Scott Jordan sent me a link to Nokia’s “Design a Concept Phone by Community” site. I’ve been following the traffic and the dialog for a couple of weeks. What Nokia is doing is offering a series of interactive design polls about different aspects of a new concept mobile phone. Here’s this week’s:
Each week you get to “vote” by moving sliders on a different aspect of the phone design:
• Display and User Interface
• Size and shape
• Operating System
These polls will be followed by the ability to vote on design concept sketches in May. This appears to be a “serious” design endeavor. At least there are actual Nokia designers participating in the discussions and offering some background and context.
As one of the 450+ commenters points out, the polling exercise would be better, and more valid, if people were asked to specify a few things up front, e.g., what kind of phone do they currently have and how do they use (or want to use) their phone. This would make it easier for Nokia to do some useful segmentation of the design choices people are making as they “vote.”
Yet, the most impressive thing about this “design by community” exercise is not the fairly trivial set of choices people make by moving sliders up and down to express preferences about things they may not actually understand. It’s the rich discussion and suggestions that follow. As someone who spends a lot of time gathering customer requirements from smart customers, I can see that there are a lot of well-grounded ideas and insights in the outpouring of suggestions that people have offered. I also find that there’s a lot of context in the suggestions that people are offering. They volunteer a lot about why they care about certain functions or features. (Of course, since this is a public exercise, I imagine that Nokia’s competitors are harvesting many of these customers’ suggestions, as well!)
The lesson I’m taking away from this exercise is that if you want to get users talking substantively about design trade-offs, give them something interactive to play with and to react to—even if the choices you offer are very basic. The ability to interact and vote gets people engaged. Then they want to contribute more because they can’t really express their feelings by moving the knobs. They want to comment (or at least 10% of them apparently do.) Nokia is garnering a lot of good customer input (positive and negative) in this “design by community” effort and a lot of good brand awareness and cachet. I hope it’s more than a PR stunt and that an actual phone emerges that people can buy. In fact, a good way to validate the results would be to use the Muji/Threadless model of getting people to put their money where their mouths are—which of these models will you actually buy? Place your order now!