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iPhone Lessons and the User Experience

posted by Matt Ward on Feb 9, 2010.

I recently purchased an iPhone, a decision which proved to be good one, both in terms of functionality and experience. In this article I we are going to are four areas of my first contact with the device, and the lessons they taught me about user experience.

As you may have read in one of my recent posts, I have become the owner of a brand new iPhone. This is the third Apple product that I have acquired (after my iPod Nano and MacBook), and there are some common elements that I have experienced with all of them. Obviously, there is the excellent design and craftsmanship. All three products feature beautiful lines and surfaces, and just generally lovely to look at. That is somewhat of a hallmark of Apple’s line of products!

iPhone Lessons and the User Experience

iPhone Lessons and the User Experience

The other thing that was common to all three of the products was an exceptional user experience – specifically in terms of first contact. In this article, I would like to look at four lessons that I learned through my own initial experience with my new iPhone.

Before getting started, though, I would like to preface this discussion by stating that user experience (or UX as it is called) is an area in which I am still learning and growing. As such, I certainly don’t come at this subject with any claim at being an authoritative voice on the subject. Instead, I would simply like to share some of my own observations and outline what I feel that I’ve learned from them.

Attractive Packaging

Before ever even getting my hands on the iPhone (and beginning a never ending battle with fingerprints and smudges on its glassy black surface), my first contact was with the packaging itself. The box was small and compact, and a remarkable example of design in its own right! The top of the box featured an image of the iPhone itself, with the apps arranged to their default configuration.

The shape of the iPhone was also raised out of the smooth rigid cardboard, and printed with a shiny finish along the silver bevel. All of this radiated the simple promise of the device that was resting inside, waiting to be used and enjoyed.

All told, this first moment of contact with the product was extremely enjoyable (I will definitely be keeping that box). From this, I would suggest that, although simple packaging on its own will never be enough to establish a positive user experience, it’s certainly a good first step.

I think that this same premise can be translated into a lesson for designing all types of user experience. By wrapping the product in an attractive and enjoyable package (either physical or metaphorical), you can begin to establish the foundation for a positive user experience. Once the packaging is opened, however, it will always be up to the product itself to deliver that experience.

Uniformity of Brand

After opening the packaging, I obviously came face to face with the iPhone itself, resting in its simple, black plastic cradle. There were, however several other things also to be found in that little black box, including the instruction booklets, headphones, the USB cable and a nifty little adapter which turns that cable into an independent charging cord that plugs right into the wall.

All of these things were wonderfully familiar to me through my experience with other Apple products. I would like to consider each of them independently.

Instruction Booklets – All of the booklets were contained in a simple, black and matte-finished pouch. The pouch was extremely simple looking, with no real graphics beyond the words “Designed by Apple in California”, and a simple tab to help keep it closed. It was, however, almost identical in every way other than size to the pouch that had held the various instruction booklets for my MacBook. Immediately upon opening it, I felt a sense of familiarity with the Apple brand.

Earphones – I’ve never been a big fan of the earphones that Apple ships with it’s iPod line. But, then, I’ve never been a big fan of any kind of earphones. I’m much more partial to larger headphones that actually rest over top of my ears. That being said, the earphones that came with the iPhone were still familiar, and helped link it in with the rest of the product line.

USB Cable – This is also true of the USB cable, about which I was significantly more excited than I was with the earphones. The cable that came with the iPhone is identical to the one that came with my iPod over a year earlier, and my wife’s iPod several years before that. I’ve purposefully mixed and matched and found that all three of the cords are entirely interchangeable! Not only does this create still more uniformity across the product line, it’s also incredibly convenient for repeat customers (like myself). I can now leave one cord at the office, one by the home computer, and another one in my laptop bag, meaning that it should always be easy to plug the iPhone into my MacBook, no matter where I am!

USB Attachment – The USB attachment is a handy little device, which I was pretty stoked to find included with the iPhone. Having to charge a mobile device through a computer can be pretty frustrating when you’re on the go, and this attachment helps eliminate the problem! Additionally, though, it also reminds me a lot of the power cord for my MacBook, which has a similar, removable block, and allows me to attach it to a larger power cord for added length. Again, the appearance of this attachment reminded me of another Apple product, helping to establish uniformity across the brand!

The lesson learned here is the importance of branding in the user experience. For me, every purchase of an Apple product only emphasizes my understanding of their core brand values. Also given that I have had a positive experience with all of their products, I can thus be confident that any future purchases will also provide me with a similar (positive) experience!

It Just Works

One phrase that we’ve heard as recently as Steve Jobs’ much heralded revelation of the already infamous iPad is that “it just works”. This is equally true of the iPhone. I was able to simply turn it on and start using it. I pressed the home button and up popped the menu. I quickly located Safari (another form of brand uniformity), launched the app and started surfing the internet.

The iPhone reall does just work (click for original image source)

The iPhone reall does just work (click for original image source)

It really was that easy.

And so was setting up my email. I just plugged the iPhone into my MacBook and synced them up. Immediately, the mail app on my iPhone was configured and I was able to download and read my emails. All of the other apps worked the same way. As such, my immediate experience with the product (and my continuing experience so far) is that it just works. There’s no need to jump through hoops to get it to do what I want.

The lesson to be learned here is that a product should just do what it is designed to do. This, of course, would include a website. If your site is designed to have a specific functionality, making sure that it just works the way it’s supposed to is a relatively a elementary (though perhaps not always simple) way to help ensure a positive user experience!

Wonderful Simplicity

The iPhone is also wonderfully simple and intuitive to use. This is similar to the fact that it just works, but I categorize it somewhat differently because a product can work the way it’s designed to but still be more complex than is really necessary.

Not so with the iPhone. After turning it on, I was able to navigate through the apps easily – literally just with a flip and tap of my thumb. Various functionality, such as systems settings were easy to find and understand. After just a few hours I felt more than competent with the device. This all contributed to a positive experience on my part.

Compare this against my wife, who picked up a Blackberry at the same time as I got the iPhone. She actually really loves her new phone, so I am by no means suggesting that she had a negative user experience, but there was certainly a longer learning curve as she accustomed herself to using the device and navigating through the various menus and sub menus.

Fortunately the learning curve was not so steep as to turn her off of her new purchase, but there is a user experience lesson to be learned here too. Make the use of your product (or design) as simple as possible. Of course, you don’t want to sacrifice functionality, but making your interface simple and intuitive is another crucial step towards helping to ensure a positive experience for your users and/or customers.

Conclusion

Well there you have it. This is probably not the most scientific or academic way out outlining use experience, and is certainly not an exhaustive list of the areas that you need to consider when designing for user experience. Still, I hope that you can learn something from this article. At the very least, I hope that my experiences have helped to affirm some of the things that you may have already known on the subject.

As I mentioned, I’m far from an expert in user experience, so I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on this one. Did any of you have a similar experience with your iPhones, or perhaps with a different product? Please feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts and experiences!

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Also from Echo Enduring Media:

An Unfolding Tale

About the Author

Matt Ward is a digital artist who lances freely under the moniker of Echo Enduring Media, and specializes in graphics design, illustration and writing. He is also the Creative Director for Highland Marketing, a creative direct marketing company based out of Waterloo, Ontario. You can follow Matt on Twitter

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Comments

Feb 9, 2010

Sneh Roy says:

What can I say? I am a fan .. love my iPhone, love the numerous nanos we seem to have at home and love my iMac :). Strangely though I am going to buy a cheap ass laptop with the smallest screen running Windows, for all my writing next month :)

Feb 10, 2010

Design Informer says:

Excellent! I’ve owned 2 of the iPhone 3G and currently have an iPhone 3GS 32gb. I love the iPhone. It’s very easy to use, I didn’t even have to learn how to use it. It just felt really natural. Sure, there are some missing features that I would have liked to have, but like you mentioned on your post, it’s simple and it works. I think I’ll be sticking with the iPhone line for a long time.

BTW, I can’t wait for the iPad. Yeah, I said it. I’m sure some people will hate on my comment now. ;)

Go Apple and go Steve!

Feb 10, 2010

Lam Nguyen says:

Really nice article! I’m preparing a post about mobile design and doing a research. That would be helpful for me!

@Sneh: I’m a big fan of Mac, too, Sneh!

Feb 10, 2010

Callum Chapman says:

How dare you Sneh, don’t turn to the dark-side, cheap or not cheap! ;) Haha, only kidding :) I could actually do with some sort of (working) laptop. I just sold my old Dell one because it wasn’t very portable (it didn’t like not having the charger plugged in haha) but still managed to get a half decent price for it. My fiancée has a Dell Inspirion Mini (something like that) but I’m terrible at typing on the small keyboard ;) One day I might treat myself to an old black MacBook, love everything about those apart from the fading trackpads ;) Although I might just wait until the MBP is released and replace my iMac 24″ with one of those and an external 24″ monitor… expensive stuff though!

Anyway, that was off-topic! I love my iPhone, and since purchasing it over a few months back now, I’ve found it come in handy so many times, not just as a phone, but to easily jot down notes, check prices when in shops, using the map feature and so much more, and I love the way “it just works”.

Great article Matt, keep up the awesome work! Before long you’ll have thousands of subscribers, you watch ;)

Feb 10, 2010

Robert Hartung says:

Got one too .. and I can’t live without one anymore … the www accessible from everywhere .. that’s just great!

Feb 10, 2010

Chris Thurman says:

I love my iPhone! I’ve said it’s probably the greatest thing I’ve ever bought for myself. I can’t imagine going back to life on my old Nokia or LG phones.

I find it fascinating that we can write about the design of something as simple as the packaging or USB cable that comes with a phone. Only with Apple!

Great post Matt!

Feb 10, 2010

Blogger Den says:

Awesome article dude! Keep up the sweet posts, I’m a huge iPhone fan and these kinds of posts really help.

Feb 10, 2010

Jon Phillips says:

I find that pretty much everything Apple does, in fact, ‘just works’. Ok I’m a big Apple fan, but I guess I’m not the only one :)

I don’t own an iPhone, but I can say that buying an iPod Touch was really a great move! Great post!

Feb 10, 2010

Nikola Lazarevic says:

Great article Matt!
I still don’t have one, but I want it so badly. Love the look, feel and simplicity.
So, I hope i will buy one soon, and then I will have it all: iMac, MacBook and iPhone.
Cos “Just Works!”

Feb 10, 2010

ESN says:

I love my iPhone too! The only usability issue that I find is how hard it’s to type on the touch keyboard. Other than that, it is pretty smooth and easy to use.

Feb 12, 2010

Alan says:

I’m just waiting on my iPhone from work and cannot wait. No matter how many new smartphones comes out they just dont seem to reach the same level as the iPhone.

Its simple to use and looks great.

Feb 12, 2010

Robin Capper says:

Agree the phone is nice, pity iTunes sync doesn’t always continue the same smooth experience. It sometimesworks fine, sometimes gives spurious “another iPhone has been synced…” errors

Feb 14, 2010

Mars says:

2 days ago, i just handed an iphone to my wife as a gift, and it makes me not to sleep for 1 night to figure things out

Mar 25, 2010

Johnna Obermuller says:

heya,

Well, getting a free iPhone is all too easy. Just find the right place. That’s all there’s too it. Plus there are many of contests that you can sign up for. Almost all offer free stuff … heck, it’s how I got my free iPhone :)

Jul 22, 2010

Dare Fans says:

i consider it was a bit rushed, and ignored some options that not many people discuss about. Everyone is aware of that the majority new smartphones have web, so why present that primary function at its bear minimum. Scroll up scroll down zoom in zoom out. Really? which new cellphone doesnt try this? How bout talk about how the textual content rearranges itsself. Also the texting, very poor review. Why didnt you point out you can use the mic and text together with your voice? Overlooked ALOT of different more vital features

Dec 30, 2010

Mario says:

And yet another poor and insubstantial review from the Echo Enduring blog. I really hope you take the time to research and do an informative article someday.

Your blog is a perfect example of what’s happening in the world today; attractive design and shallow content.

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