As technology changes, equipment changes with it. However often we see clients who don’t re-evaluate their custom keypads to see if they still make sense on an updated device. Is it time to revise your control system?

An Evaluation of Thumb Size and SMS Texting

The article “A Study of the Effect of Thumb Sizes on Mobile Phone Texting Satisfaction” which appeared in the May 2008 Journal of Usability Studies detailed a study where the authors measured the thumb length and circumference of 110 adults and correlated the data with their texting satisfaction.

All participants used their own cell phones and texted regularly. The study showed significant flaws with the traditional 4×3 key layout, regardless of whether multitap or predictive texting was used. Their conclusion was that custom keypads on modern phones have become too small and manufacturers should use larger keypads to make texting easer. They also suggested that letters should be moved to other keys, making common letters easier to reach.

Embrace New Design Concepts

The reason texting doesn’t work well with the standard phone layout is these keypads were never intended for the practice. Telephone keypads were designed for wall-mounted and desktop phones, not handheld mobile phones. The convention of putting letters on the phone goes back to the days when people spelled out the first two letters of named telephone exchanges when dialing phone numbers. This obsolete system has been carried through to modern telephone custom keypads because that’s just the way it’s always been done.

As equipment goes through design changes, developers need to ask whether the custom keypads are still relevant to modern use. A control system that made sense ten years ago could be archaic and frustrating to today’s user. Creating new layouts that match the function of the device and the needs of the user will lead to equipment which is easier to operate.

Manufacturers Conduct Usability Tests

Many manufacturers create prototypes so they can test their usability with end users. These tests measure how easy the devices are to use. In some cases, users don’t even realize the controls are inefficient. They’ve always done it that way and never consider there is a better method. Designers can spot these shortcomings and create new, better controls.

Users might resist control changes, but the new systems don’t have to involve major modifications. Often seemingly trivial changes in key design or layout can greatly improve the usability of a device. One common problem manufacturers are facing is the difficultly of using small controls. As electronics shrink, the custom keypads don’t have to shrink with them.

Evaluation of control systems should be a standard part of a device’s redesign. Usability testing should be an integral part of system testing. Manufacturers will develop devices which are more intuitive and comfortable to use.