A Group Design Project
An Analysis of Cell Phone Cases
DESIGN 1 - Winter 2018
Table of Contents
Interviews and Observation
For our mind map, we started with our object, phone cases, at its center. From the center, we branched off by listing different types of phone cases that we knew. This included wallet phone cases with built in card holders, as well as “mom” wallet cases, where the card holder is in the front instead of the back and it covers the screen. Other types of cases we included were chargeable cases, decorative cases, protective cases (e.g otterbox), and slim-fit cases. On these 6 branches, we added reasons why someone would want or prefer that type of case. Each branch had many original reasonings, like “stylish” for decorative cases and “preventing from frequent drops” for protective cases. But many shared similar reasonings, such as “cheap” for both protective and slim-fit cases. Other reasons listed included: “less likely to drop,” “stylish,” “disliking purses,” and “useful for geogames.”
Going into this project, we knew we wanted to research a simple item that is used by most of the population and not specifically geared towards a certain group. Cell phones are very prominent these days, as they have become a basic essential to everyday, modern life. However, knowing that the design of a cell phone is physically too complex to critique and observe as a form of expensive and intricate technology, we went with the next best thing, cell phone cases. The cases are just as widely used and utilize a much simpler design that we could actually perform in-depth research in,
Searching for people to interview was relatively easy. We interviewed mostly people in the college-age demographic, with some of the interviewees from older demographics as well. When approaching people, they would most likely have their phone and its case on their person. For the interviews themselves, we started off with simple questions that will determine whether to even interview the person. For example, the first question we generally used was “Do you use any type of phone case?” From there, our interview process consisted of questions aimed at finding the reasoning behind their particular choices in their phone cases. The whole purpose of this process is to determine what it is that buyers want and what is most important to them.
In deciding what questions we were going to ask the interviewees, we planned out a list of guiding questions for the interviewer. These question specifically asked about the phone case brand, price range, design, purpose, the ease of removing the case, and any other prompts that could be reached during the interview. One problem we encountered while coming up with the interview questions was how to pose the questions without creating leading questions. For instance, we originally were going to use “Do you like your phone case?” As a result, we went through all the possibly leading questions, as suggested by the TAs during studio. So, instead of the original question, we asked “How do you feel about your phone case?”
When we actually started on the interviews, we went about asking random people in different locations around San Diego. We did this to achieve a wider variety of interview subjects with different experiences as opposed to only college students. In approaching the actual interviews, we took the advice given from class lecture and paired up into twos. We had one person actually performing the interview, using the master-apprentice model, while the other wrote down what was being said. This gave the interview more of a conversational feel that flowed more naturally as opposed to a very structured format. This also helped the interviewer pay their full attention on the interviewees as opposed to constantly having to jump between taking notes and talking to the subjects.
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/18129w-dygIxvGiy4W-5mLwK3MJC-XfW2GniiFUis19w/edit?usp=sharing - Spreadsheet of our collected data - includes tab for images collected
Looking at our dataset, we found certain trends. The most common phone cases from the people we interviewed were slim plastic or silicone cases. (Only 4/14 interviewees had a different type of case that was usually thicker.) Most of the reasoning provided by the interviewees are that they were attracted to the aesthetic appeal of the case and that they wanted more protection for their phone. The protectiveness acted as a satisfier because a case’s protectiveness satisfies the user’s need for preventing future damage on their phone. The aesthetic acted as a delighter, as this aspect of the phones aimed to please the users. These cases were often customized with stickers and other accessories like popsockets.
All the phones also had the common affordance of the phone case being able to fit the phone perfectly. The chargeable cases had the added affordance of being able to recharge the physical phones without plugging the phones into the walls. The wallet cases had the affordance of being able to hold cards and cash with the phone. The protective cases, like most of the cases, had some degree of protecting the cases from damage. All the cases also had the affordance of having a hole that, when the case was placed on the phone correctly, would allow the camera to take photos through the case.
We found that the cases bought were relatively inexpensive. Our interviewees spent an average of $10.50 on their current case, with no one recalling paying over $20 for their case. Affordability definitely factored into their phone case choice and where they bought it.
We also found that, in the majority of our data collected, 70 % of cases were purchased online on Amazon. We believe that this is because it provides cheaper and more diverse options than a regular store. There is such a wide variety of phones and each require different cases. It’s significantly easier and more convenient to search for a case online, and the selection is far greater than it is in stores.
Many of the users, with the exception of a couple (those with thicker cases), were able to take their phone cases on and off with plenty of ease. This is because, phone cases in general are very simple to use. Specific concave corners signify where the phones edges are supposed to go. Cases also have a camera opening on the back, which signify that which side of the case correlated with its respective side on the phone. These aspects logically constrained the direction of the case to make sure that the case was placed on the back of the phone. Both these signifiers and logical constraints help bridge the gulf of execution of how to put on the case. Seeing the case fit securely around the phone and having all the proper holes aligning with specific areas like the volume buttons or camera spaces help bridge the gulf of evaluation that it was put on correctly.
One of the problems we found is that cheapness actually become a big factor in choosing cases. Protection and attractiveness are some of the most common reasons for people purchasing a phone case, but people also rarely paid more than $10 for their case. Affordability acts as more of a satisfier in their purchase decision, rather than a delighter, which is the attractiveness aspect that we expected to be held highest. There are slim, attractive cases that protect phones very well, but people tended to not pay for these cases, which are designed specifically for protection while still being aesthetically pleasing.
The ideal look of a the phone is to not have a case at all. But this will lead to the phone becoming scratched up and damaged, unless you’re an extremely careful user.
Rubber cases offer increased protection from spills and especially drops. Rubber cases are great shock absorbers. When a phone is dropped, they absorb most of the blow. Rubber cases are also easier to hold, making a drop less likely. However, rubber cases are often bulky and heavy, sometimes so bulky that they no longer fit comfortably in a pocket. Some people reported dropping their phone MORE often because they had to hold onto the phone itself rather than putting the phone in another more secure location.
Hard plastic covers offer a wealth of personalization options and affordances, coming in a variety of patterns while permitting the option of personalizing with popsockets or stickers. The plastic covers are also light and thin, great for preventing surface damage. A hard plastic cover will not hold up to drops though, but it will keep the phone underneath fresh.
Silicone covers offer medium protection. They will protect the phone from some drops, not as well as rubber. Some come in attractive colors, and clear silicone cases let your show off your phone, while still keeping it protected from damage. However, silicone cases break-down over time. They stretch and discolor from use. They are also slightly bulkier than plastic, but not as much as rubber.
In order to ensure maximum protection of the phone, the stylishness or aesthetics of a phone case are usually lost. Most protective cases, e.g Otterbox, are only designed to solely satisfy the need for protection. This makes them look rather bulky and usually differences in style are limited to its color. The limited options of style for ultra-protective cases can be a dissatisfier for some users, because they end up sacrificing style for practicality. For users who appreciate unique fashion designs or personalizations on their phone cases, slim-fit phone cases usually fits those desires through their decorativeness, and acts as a delighter. Slim-fit phone cases also satisfy the need for protection, but to a lesser extent than the thicker ones. The tradeoff between these decorative, slim cases is that they don’t provide maximum protection for the phone, but they are a lot more stylish and meaningful in their decorative design.
Fig 1.1 Bulky, Black Otterbox Case Fig 1.2 Clear, thin “jelly” case personalized with stickers
Another tradeoff between phone cases is their price versus their quality. Cheaper phone cases, ranging from $0-15, tend to be made of thin plastic or “jelly” silicone and provide less protection than one made of thicker material and plastic. These phone cases satisfy the users need for affordability, but at the cost of less protection. More expensive phones cases, like the otterbox, range from $15-$60 and up because of their higher quality material. Usually expensiveness acts as a dissatisfier for people, but users who value maximum protection are willing to tradeoff affordability for the satisfaction of security in mind and protection of their phone.
We ran into a wide variety of phone cases, of different sizes, shapes, and material, and it was challenging for us to break them down into categories.
Admittedly, from our data, the two most important features of a phone case were protection and look. However, we really couldn’t quantify “look.” One person liked the look of a florescent pink case, another was equally happy with their black Otterbox. We were unable to see a particular trend as each person seemed to have a different preference of their phone’s aesthetic. Instead we focused on a common tradeoff people often brought up which influenced their decision.
On this design space for phone cases, we compared different phone case designs based on sleekness (y-axis) and protectiveness (x-axis). Designs that are more protective of the phone, tend to be more bulky. While those that are more sleek offer less protection.
The ideal phone case would provide maximum protection and ultimate sleekness. Keep the phone protected, while still being small enough for the phone to be comfortably pulled in and out of a pocket. Because none of our interviewees had spent more than $15 on a case, we had to disregard more expensive cases that would fit this category - few people bought them even if they were ideal. The closest current design to our ideal design is the silicone case, which offers sleekness and a thin layer of protection for the phone. The silicone case offers more drop protection than not using a case or using flimsy plastic cases, but without being as bulky as a Hybrid case. People with this phone case were often able to add customization to their phone that made them happy - adding stickers or cards between their case.