in Industrial Design

The iPod remote and communicating function with shape

For all the brilliance of the iPod’s design, I think Apple must’ve outsourced the design of it’s somewhat lesser offspring, the iPod remote. It has a very unfortunate design flaw, unfortunate because the fix would be so frustratingly simple. The problem I’m referring to is the use of identical button shapes for different functions, play/pause vs volume up/down.

Ipod Remote

When I use the remote (which is the primary way in which I control the iPod), I am rarely, if ever, actually looking at the remote when operating it, usually because I keep it in my pocket or inside my jacket or somewhere tucked away and I don’t want to have to pull it all they way up so I can see it every time I need to click on something.

But because the shape of the volume and play/pause buttons are the same and it’s very hard to know which way is up or down when not looking at the iPod, I am constantly pausing when I want to be changing the volume or vice versa. It seems as if whoever designed the remote assumed that the user would always be looking at it when operating it, which in turn leads me to wonder if they actually did any field testing of the thing.

Seems it wouldn’t take much actual use of the remote to discover that it’s likely that the operator would not want to have to be looking at the remote to be able to operate it. Why not apply the functional identification to the shape of the button? In other words, why not give the up/down volume button a distinct shape, such as a triangle shape that maps to the volume level?

Ipod remote redsigned with shaped buttons

And while we’re at it, might as well apply the same concept to the next/previous track, making the shape-based concept complete. (In humble deference to the designers at Apple, I also corrected the icon they are using for the next/previous track; the one they are using is actually the icon for going to the first or last item in a list rather than the next or previous one…) This way, there is no need for any tactile guesswork every time you want to change the volume or track or whatever.

And in addition, after some wear and tear, when the white labels have all but faded away from the endless clicking of greasy fingers, that won’t matter much, since the user will still know which button is which based on it’s shape.