What prompts someone to shape an idea into a commercial reality? As a designer, I’m by nature a positive person, and as an entrepreneur I am, of necessity, always positive. So when a friend suggested I think about a mobile device for pre-schoolers (the bPhone is a mobile phone for children aged three to seven), I embraced the idea.
After years of working with the mobile phone industry I saw it as an opportunity to refute the notion that mobile phones serve to alienate and socially isolate, by developing a thoroughly considered solution. We started from first principles, rather than thinking about a ready-made smartphone replica, with a few gimmicks to make it more child friendly, or a solution like an “always-on” bracelet that would ease a parent’s anxiety but not necessarily appeal to the child. We wanted a phone that was designed from the ground up as a child’s phone, a product the child would learn to take care of and which would convey the importance of communication. If we’d designed, say, a smartphone, we would have created a device which would too easily distract the child from understanding what communication means.
So to create such a product from scratch – the product which became our bPhone U-10 – we began by developing an understanding of the needs of both parents and children and by interpreting the dynamic between them. We focused on the natural interaction between parent and child and allowed this to shape both the product and its user interface. When you develop a product such as a mobile device, the overriding principle of the design process must be that every detail should be created by the interaction that the product has both with its user and its wider environment – what we at 21am call other external interferences.
What are these external interferences? The influence of many products, particularly ICT products, is not just limited to their users. They interact directly and indirectly with other people, other systems, other tangential services and of course with their natural environment. Therefore, the extended list of probabilities eventually influencing your planning choices and the product pretty much is designed by the results of your analysis.
For example, the bPhone form-factor we decided on was not simply a matter of taste. After feedback from parents, worried about the electro-magnetic radiation generated by all mobile devices, we designed the bPhone as a portable device, to be worn and used only when needed. We engineered the device in order to guarantee very low distribution of electro-magnetic radiation, with the antenna positioned right behind the microphone so that the radiation from these two components collides and moves the electro-magnetic field away from the child’s face when they speak on the phone. Not only does this approach keep the users safer, it also addresses parental concerns.
Smart choice of components
The final form-factor is very solid and has a 14-day battery life. It also has GPS and can be tracked anywhere. And as we’re not employing exotic technology but only a smart choice of components, we managed to launch a commercial product for less than £50.00.
We’ve spent the last year talking directly with our customers. We’ve spent hours talking with mothers, fathers and children in order to understand their feelings towards such an innovative product like the bPhone; and we’ve explained to them precisely why we took certain design decisions. We always had answers to their questions, and made sure we were able to explain every single detail. This certainty and accuracy in our explanations has been hugely reassuring to our customers – they can plainly see we’ve done a good job.