User Interface Reviews: Cheap!

Joel Spolsky has a really funny article about a cell phone Sprint sent him in the hopes he’d blog about it. Well he did, and the results weren’t pretty:

And now suddenly someone at Sprint read some book by Scoble and then they read Malcolm Gladwell’s theories of tipping points in the airport and Hey Presto! Maybe we can make this work by finding the tipping point people! You know, the bloggers! And all the bloggers get free cell phones, and Sprint gets tons of publicity, but frankly all the publicity in the world is not going to help them foist on us a product that is utterly pathetic. The phones they send us are so lame there is literally no area you can go into without being disappointed and shocked at just how shoddy everything is and how much it costs and what a rip off scam they’re trying to run here with the music that costs too much and the movies that you don’t want to watch on the screen that makes them unwatchable and you just KNOW that if you call to cancel the extra $7/month, their customer service department is going to give you the phone menu runaround and then put you on hold for an hour and then you’ll get some cancellation specialist with an incomprehensible accent who will spend 15 minutes trying to talk you out of canceling the useless service until you just give up and let them have the goddamned $7 a month. No amount of pampering bloggers and calling them Ambassadors is going to get around the fact that you’re sending us plastic junk phones that look like bath toys. (Hey, does it float?) All the “tipping point” theories in the world won’t protect Sprint from the basic truth that the LG Fusic user interface could basically serve as an almost complete textbook for a semester-long course in user interface design, teaching students of usability exactly what NOT to do.

Wait a minute.

Wait just one minute.

Maybe I completely missed the point.

And then Joel goes on to explain how the real point is that the phone he’s just elaborated the shortcomings of in excruciating detail is designed for four-year-olds; but I’ve got another theory. Maybe, just maybe, some bright soul at Sprint recognized what a turkey they had on their hands and wanted a real expert usability review from a known usability expert. Maybe they didn’t have the five figure budget it would probably take to hire Spolsky, even if he’d agree to take them as a client. (They could have hired me for four figures, and I would have taken them as a client; but I’m not as famous as Joel is.) So instead they sent him a known bad product, and conned him into writing a complete usability review for free. If so, they got their money’s worth.

Probably they’re not that devious. It’s far more likely Sprint is run by pointy haired bosses, not Dogbert; but one does wonder. The report Joel gave them for free may well be worth millions to them if they’re smart enough to listen. Only time will tell if they do.

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