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by Gerry McGovern
Author, New Thinking

When I bought my Ericsson GF788 mobile phone I was impressed by the fact that it was so small. In fact, its size was probably the deciding factor in the purchase. It fit in the pocket quite well and it looked quite cool.

You've probably become aware of the 'let's make things smaller' trend that is driving a lot of the design in the computers and telecommunications industries. Of course, this small trend is nothing new. As designer Richard Seymour has pointed out, it happened with calculators. Calculators got so small that they could fit on a watch. However, when it was discovered that to actually use a watch calculator you'd need to carry around a pin and magnifying glass, the designers realised that maybe they had gone a bit too far.

I wonder is there a plastic surgery demand by mobile phone users to make their fingers more slender? Because, you know, having a small mobile phone is no joke when you have normal - let alone big - fingers.

This, of course, raises the important question: What drives design? Is it the user or is it the designer and their peer group? Too often, particularly within the computer industry, both hardware and software design has been driven by boys wishing to invent new toys. The consumer has been basically told that what they need is more hard drive, more RAM and more hertz.

Instead of getting easier to use, many of today's computers have, in fact, become more complicated. There are so many features that a novice very quickly can get lost in a maze of choice. We are, however, now seeing a movement away from this all-in-one multipurpose computer to cheaper, single function computing devices.

The designs that are going to win out from now on are going to have to make the end consumer the central focus of the design. There are two particular reasons for this. Firstly, women are achieving an increasingly influential position in the purchasing cycle for many products. Women tend to be more practical in the features they seek from a product. Women will drive functional design.

Secondly, as I have written about before, the more we progress into the new millennium the more older people there will be in the world. In every country in the 'First World' people are living longer. This will have a profound impact on the type of society we live in, not to mention the type of products that are designed for it.

For starters, older people don't like very small products. Their fingers are not as agile and their eyesight is not as good. Older people will want products that are genuinely simple to use. They will look for feature-relevant rather than feature-rich designs. They will go for comfort over style.

Small is all well and good but I certainly have decided that the next mobile phone I buy will be bigger.

� Gerry McGovern, New Thinking. All rights reserved.

Gerry McGovern is the author of New Thinking, a weekly column which has received numerous accolades and a book, THE CARING ECONOMY

The Caring Economy
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The Caring Economy, by Gerry McGovern, is published by Blackhall Publishing of 26 Eustace Street, Dublin 2, Ireland. ISBN 1-901657-61-2 Price _27.50 or US$35.95
Email: [email protected]

It is also available in the United States from Irish Books & Media, 1433 East Franklin Avenue, MN, USA 55404-2135. Call toll-free: 1-800-229-3505.

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