Jenson Button Image

No, that’s the wrong sort of Button

The Doro 612 is about to be replaced and at Fuss Free Phones we’ve been thinking hard about what to make our new mainstay easy to use mobile phone.

There are a couple of options, the Doro 6030 and the Doro 6520, and technically they are quite different, but ultimately the most important thing is the buttons.

Doro 6030 and 6520

The Doro 6030 on the left is 2G and cheaper, the more expensive 3G Doro 6520 on the right will find a signal more eaily.

Sony Walkman phone the W880

The Sony Ericsson W880 was sold more for playing music than for ease of use.

Perhaps the most important thing when we look at a new phone is the buttons. While most of the phone world vexes over processor speed, camera resolution and internet speed we are more pragmatic. We want a phone that is easy to see, easy to hear and easy to use.
Making an easy to use mobile phone is very much about the buttons.
Our phones are often called Big Button phones, and the Doro 6520 having smaller buttons might be seen as a retrograde step, but there are subtleties to buttons which mean, as they say, size isn’t everything.
What matters is spacing. I’m indebted to work done by usability expert Steve Herbst, who worked on simple mobile phones at Philips and at Motorola. His research determined that what matters most is not the size of the buttons, but the distance between button centres. So a phone like the Sony Ericsson W880 which has tiny buttons isn’t as awkward to use as you’d think if your only metric was the size of the actual button.
Other factors which matter are having a contrast so that you can easily see where one button ends and the next begins. Known as “island keys”. Indeed Doro once made a bit of a mistake. For a long time the mainstay easy to use phone for Fuss Free Phones has been the Doro 614. We carried on selling it long after everyone else discontinued it and this, in the main, was down to the buttons.

Doro 622

The Doro 622 made buttons bigger and reduced useability

Doro replaced the Doro 614 with the Doro 622. This had bigger button but did this by removing the space between the buttons. Worse they made the text black on white. We didn’t like this.
As we get older our eyesight starts to go. That “getting older” starts at twelve! Your eyesight is most acute before you are a teenager. It’s all downhill after that.
One thing which happens is the way we see brightness changes. In our vision white bleeds into black. So when you look at black text on a white background the white impinges on the black and makes the text seem lighter. Put white text on a black background and the image seems to get larger.
This is counter-intuitive to designers who, are taught the opposite. When you learn about designing for print you are taught that “white-out” text needs to be 10% bolder than black on white but this is down to the history of print. Before paper was blade-coated in a thin layer of white clay, it was very absorbent. This meant that text grew when it was printed. Some fonts take this into account.
So rather than move to the Doro 622, we bought all the remaining Doro 614 phones the company had in the UK. In time Doro replaced the Doro 622 with the Doro 612 and we’ve slowly moved to that. We do have an affection for the 614 because it’s an early 3G phone. This gives it particularly clear sound and is very good at holding onto a signal.
So in the move from the Doro 612 we are very pleased to see that both the Doro 6030 and the Doro 6520 have island keys with white text on black buttons. We prefer the Doro 6520 because it comes with a docking station and is 3G, but ultimately we’ll be very happy to support both.

Simon Rockman