Sierra Wireless’ new USB cellular modems show how user-centred design can help differentiate products in a commoditised market. Matt Plested of Alloy, the agency which helped Sierra design the products, explained how they explored user environments for USB modems to better understand customer needs.
Alloy found the availability of space around the modem was a major cause of user frustration. For instance, when sitting next to someone on a train, the modem would protrude horizontally from the user’s laptop, causing them to become self conscious about intruding on their fellow passengers’ personal space. Similarly, using the device on a desktop or small table could lead to the modem coming up against walls and other space limitations.
In addition, the horizontal protrusion of the modem amplified a design weakness of USB sticks: a tendency for them to bend or break where they are inserted into the host laptop.
Alloy’s response was the Fin. It uses a swivelling joint to enable the USB modem to lie flat against the side of laptop. This saves space and also ensures impacts are absorbed by the full exterior casing of the modem rather than the weak joint. They also created a second design, again with a swivel joint, but this time with a more rounded appearance. Both convey a sense of quality, attention to detail and premium materials through use of gnurling, sculpting and embossing.
To support this form factor innovation, Sierra Wireless’ engineering team had to use their RF skills to ensure modem performance wasn’t compromised by bringing the radios closer to the potential interference of the laptop. The user-driven design decisions drove the technical requirements. All too often the mobile industry still sees this process occurring the opposite way around, where technology dictates the user experience.
In a market dominated by price competition, the designs have enabled Sierra to win orders from European operators alongside even the most cost effective offerings from Far Eastern manufacturers.