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Sony, Apple, and Thoughts on the Importance of Design and User Experience

I found myself in a Sony store at the Cherry Creek mall in Denver yesterday, and came to some (interesting?) conclusions about product design and user experience. Obviously the fact that Apple ate Sony’s lunch in multiple departments is not news, but I think my visit to the store encapsulated that story well.

First , I couldn’t help but notice that Sony has an incredible breadth of electronics with a major wow-factor. Walking through the store one can’t help but marvel at the 3D tvs, PS3 games, SLRs, etc. Apple stores are cool, but from a product perspective the only things you can really touch and experiment with are computers. At Sony, I picked up this virtual reality / 3D headset thingy, and started to play Gran Turismo. I literally had an ear-to-ear smile. It’s always fun when a piece of consumer electronics can elicit such an enthusiastic response.

Then the reality hit me. There was sticky glue from the nose piece of this thing stuck to my face. Evidently Sony used some cheap adhesive to attached a rubber piece to the device, and as it slid off my head it left behind a lovely residue. My first thought: Steve Jobs would have NEVER allowed this to happen. It was such a shame too – I was so captivated by this marvel of entertainment technology, only to have that feeling stamped out by some really careless product design.

I left the store to meet up with my fiancee, but returned once again when she decided to go shoe-shopping. I decided to return to the headset at Sony that had so wowed (and disappointed) me earlier, only to find little blank screens inside the headset. Upon asking an employee what the problem was, he informed me that the PS3 to which the headset was attached had overheated. Evidently the designers of this store, which is meant to showcase products like the PS3, failed to design cabinets with proper ventilation for high-power electronics, leading to their frequent failure. Again, Steve would NEVER have allowed this to happen.

If the products at the Sony store weren’t amazing, I probably wouldn’t have even bothered to write this post. But I was so upset precisely because I was having such a great time, only to have the experience ruined twice – first by poor product design, and then by poor store/experience design. I can’t help but think that Sony already did the hard work – they developed technologies that are truly innovative and entertaining. If they could only design a nose piece that remains attached to its device, or take simple product needs into account when designing their stores, they could be KILLING it. If Steve Jobs taught us anything, it’s that seemingly small details can make or break a product’s success in the market. In fact, they are sometimes the most critical factors for the consumer.