How hard is it to design a button?

I reviewed the PRADA Phone by LG 3.0 for the Verge this week and discovered that LG is as incapable of designing a power button as it is naming its products.

The first issue that crops up is the sleep / wake button — it’s simply in the wrong place. Unlike some of my contemporaries, I can deal with a top-mounted button on a large-screened phone, but LG has placed it so close to the right edge of the device that even my piano-playing fingers couldn’t contort round to activate it. When I approached the button from the rear, the beautiful angles of the rear cover became a barrier that prevented my finger from reaching it. I’m going to start a petition to have this button become the official definition of “form over function.”

How did this design made it past a render, let alone through the prototyping phase?

I don’t claim to have a clue about the intricacies of product design. I’m strictly an end user, but I know when something does and doesn’t work. I don’t understand the difficulty in manufacturing a good button. The market is littered with phones that suffer from issues, whether it be a lack of travel, “squidgy” texture, or poor placement, very few products seem to get it spot on.

My colleague Vlad Savov wrote of the Lumia 800:

The volume rocker and lock button sit too close to one another and are almost flush with the phone’s side, making for difficult tactile recognition. They’re also a bit loose and generate an innocuous, though irritating, rattle when you move the 800 around.

The Lumia 800 is a breathtaking piece of design, so why the lack of attention to detail? I can understand that a design team may be too close to to a device to find issues, but why wasn’t this flagged up in testing? Is it simply a matter of companies not noticing these issues, or is it just that they’re incapable of rectifying them?

Despite the nonsense about design similarities — I’ve yet to find a designer that thinks the Galaxy S II looks similar to any iPhone — Apple and Samsung have very different ideas when it comes to materials, button placement, and user experience in general. But both companies consistently put out products free of button and build issues. Is it coincidence that the pair are also the manufacturers of the top two smartphones on the market?

Everyone cares about design, whether they know it or not. When handling a phone they’re imperceptibly judging the design not only by looking at it, but by holding it in their hands, touching the screen, and yes, pressing the buttons.

Physical buttons are the first and last interaction points with any phone, and the importance of getting them right shouldn’t be underplayed.

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