A recent New York Times article, "Hoping to Make Phone Buyers Flip," discusses the aesthetics of mobile phone design. Companies like LG Electronics (Chocolate & Voyager), Motorola, and Nokia are in an ongoing competition to design the coolest-looking phones. It's a form + function game, where designers need to understand the marriage of a phone's looks with its functionality. And word of mouth plays a role in a phone's initial success. As Jeremy Dale, a phone marketing exec for Motorola, notes: "The strongest marketing tool is the first 20,000 people who buy the device. If they like it, they will tell their friends."
But phone design goes beyond that, and the big companies are working hard to determine the consumer taste curve, years down the road. Recently, Nokia staged a retreat at a farmhouse in Santa Barbara, where 14 designers and researchers brainstormed the future of phone design.
Part of the challenge is personalization, as consumers want their phones to make a statement about themselves... and perhaps their beliefs. To that end, Nokia recently announced a new phone entrant, Remade, which is manufactured using recycled materials (old tires, aluminum cans), with a more energy efficient battery.
Now segue over the radio. One of the big takeaways from "The Bedroom Project," the ethnographic study we did for Arbitron last year, was the importance of design for iPods and mobile phones. At the same time, we saw firsthand the radios that our respondents had in their homes, dorm rooms, and apartments. There was the joke about the guy who used a Shower Radio in his car. But it makes you stop and think. For the most part, radios at home were imbedded in alarm clocks or were old boom boxes right out of the '70s. As more and more consumers use their cell phones as their alarms, clock radios could become an endangered species.
At a time when gadgets and fashion are virtually married to one another, the design of radios - HD and otherwise - plays a key role in attracting consumers and driving purchases. Part of radio's overall image problem is that it is perceived as an old school medium in a hot, new media environment. There are cool-looking AM/FM radios for sale - the Bose Wave radio is a nice, but aging design. If we're going to move the needle with HD and even AM/FM radios, there are aesthetic/cool issues that need to be addressed. Some of the newer models and docking stations that feature HD Radio are headed in the right direction, but they need to be affordable, well-displayed in stores like Best Buy, and simple for salespeople to explain to consumers.
The NAB's quest to stop the satellite radio merger has been well-documented, and perhaps will ultimately be successful. But the bigger threat to broadcast radio is on the inside - turning around perceptions that the medium is out-of-step with consumer tastes and desires. It starts with that old clock radio on your nightstand and that dusty boom box in the garage. Dated-looking products won't cut it in this new gadget-filled millennium.