Thursday, May 15, 2008

Doing More with Less: 4 Design Lessons from the Flip

In 2007, a company named Pure Digital released the Flip Video camera. It has quickly become the best selling video camera on Amazon.com. It has captured 13% of the video camera market in just a few months.

How does a product from an unheard-of company come to challenge an industry dominated by established big players, such as Sony, Panasonic, and Canon? It's simple. Create a better experience.
The Evolution of Camera Features

JVC and Sony manufactured the first camcorders in 1982, making low-cost video creation a possibility. Before the camcorder, you needed two devices to record: a video camera and a VCR. These combined devices opened up a new market. It was simple for anyone to point the camera, press the record button, and make a movie.

Over the years, the manufacturers have competed by adding new features, such as digital recording capabilities, longer battery life, and more compact form factors. Today's cameras can do a lot, but they are very complicated to operate. They have a bazillion buttons and a slew of settings, few of which users understand and only get in the way of using it.
Along Came the Flip

With the Flip Video camera, Pure Digital's designers have done something very interesting: they've reduced the functionality to just the useful subset of features. The camera has a simple set of buttons, just enough to control the operation. The built-in software works fast and only has the critical features.

The designers obviously thought about what is necessary to have a great camera experience and did the unthinkable: they trimmed every other bell and whistle out of the design. What's left is a barebones product that does exactly what most users want and need.

Let's look at some of the lessons we can learn from the Flip's design:
Lesson #1: Minimalist Controls

The latest Sony camcorders feature a Home Menu button, to bring you quickly to the camera's home menu. Arrow keys let you navigate quickly to the dozens of menu options and settings you'll need to operate the camera. These are just a few of the dozen or so buttons on the outside of the unit, needed to control the variety of available features.

The Flip doesn't have a Home Menu button. That's because it doesn't have a Home Menu (or any other menus).

Instead, the buttons are simple. There's a power button, a record button, a play button, and a delete button. There's a +/- toggle for adjusting the zoom when recording, which doubles as the volume control when playing back. And there's a left/right toggle for scrolling through the videos you've recorded, to select one for playing or deleting.

That's it: four buttons and two toggle sets. It's a very simple and elegant control system. The user can record movies, scroll through them, play them back, and delete them."    (Continued via UIE, Jared Spool)    [Usability Resources]

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