As designers we spend much of our time squeezing internal mechanics and technology into the smallest package we can. It increases portability of a product, it can make a product more discreet and it can save material, packaging and reduce the overall environmental impact.
But when a product or device is critical to the use of a service or delivery of a therapy, should we challenge our belief that smaller is always better?
I recently spent two days searching my living room for the controller for my Apple TV box, not an uncommon activity in our house as the beautifully slim single piece of machined aluminium slides down the back of the sofa on an almost daily basis.
This time however I was astounded to find that it had slid down the gap between the two elements of our radiator and was neatly wedged at the bottom, only retrievable with a bent coat hanger and some sticky tape. Bearing in mind the TV box has no on-board controls and is therefore unusable without the remote, does it need to be so small?
What are the key user requirements of a TV remote? Easy to find, easy to use, robust enough to survive knocks drops and spills. Compact size – at least from an end-user perspective – isn’t a specific requirement (acknowledging that the decision to go small was probably driven by the overall environmental ‘cost saving’, which is a good thing).
The practical (but not elegant) solution… stick it to the back of a bigger controller.
People will find their own ways of making products more practical. As designers it’s our responsibility to make sure they don’t have to! Spending time up front understanding real user needs is key, then testing our concepts with real people in realistic environments throughout the development to ensure we don’t miss something ‘obvious’. The initial excitement created by receiving a beautifully designed and engineered miniaturised product will soon fade when you can’t find it or it’s fiddly to use.