UIEtips article: 4 Design Lessons from the Flip

Jared Spool

May 14th, 2008

We want to make designs simple, but we don’t want to make them dumb. There’s a difference. The goal is to simplify the design by keeping only the most valuable bits, eliminating everything else.

This is not easy to do. You really have to know something about the users, what they are trying to do, and how they go about doing it. Just having that information will likely push the team to add more features, not less, so you then need a solid vision of how simplicity will make it better. Finally, you have to be ruthless and stubborn, cutting all the unnecessary bits out and sticking to your guns about keeping to the essentials.

The designers of a new video camera, the Flip Video, have cleverly done just this. As a result, the camera is stealing market share from the big players and garnering great reviews in the press mainstream press. (Oprah even featured it on her show.)

In this week’s article for our email newsletter, I look at four ways the Flip has simplified the act of filming and sharing movies, while keeping the value in the design. These are lessons I think we all can learn from.

You can read my article here.

By the way, we think the Flip Ultra Camera is so remarkable that we’re giving one away to everyone who registers by May 20th for our User Interface 13 Conference. We thought a product with a great design was the right way to start out a great conference.

Have you been working to make your designs simpler? What lessons have you learned in the process?

6 Responses to “UIEtips article: 4 Design Lessons from the Flip”

  1. Daniel Szuc Says:

    “they provide an easy way to upload the movie directly to YouTube or AOL Video.” –

    Like it when product teams think beyond their own solution and think about how to connect it to other eco systems or open it up (so users can get data in and out). For example, a bank allowing a user to export data from their systems into another system to look at things like trends etc Its the difference between open and closed thinking :)

    rgds,
    Dan

  2. Christian Watson Says:

    As a Flip camera owner I agree that it’s a great product. I actually bought it for work — for recording usability tests. Works like a charm.

    The only thing I will point out as a downside is the software — it’s slow and a bit crap. I gave up with it and just use Windows Explorer to move the files over to my PC.

  3. Phil Stewart-Jones Says:

    The Flip Ultra is a great example of a device that picks one thing and does it really well. It records and plays back a total of 1 hour of great quality video, in DIVX-compatible AVI format, and makes it easy to share the resulting video. That is literally all it does.

    However, it isn’t perfect. In the ruthless pursuit of simplicity, they discarded one function too many: there are no playback controls. This is something you really miss when you’ve taken a 20 minute clip and want to review something that happened at the 18th minute. I’d also love to see some way of moving the recordings to a card, since after an hour of filming you’re done, no matter how many AAs you have in your pocket. Restrictions aren’t always a good thing. Of course I still use and love my Flip, and have bought one as a gift since I got mine last year. Not a fatal flaw then. Interestingly, they kept a feature that they could have done away with: everyone knows that digital zoom is pointless.

    I do like how they don’t punish you for not using it as they intended. I deleted (well, moved) all their software to free up more space; I don’t need it. Nothing bad happened, it continues to function – but it did place a readme.txt in the root directory, explaining that the software was gone and what to do if you did not intend that. No blinking error messages or scary popups. Well anticipated and smartly dealt with.

    I disagree, incidentally, that the Flip is a replacement for ‘cumbersome’ camcorders. It lives in a new niche, or at least a modified one. I’d be willing to bet that most Flip owners also have a camcorder. The lack of optical zoom in the Flip means that it can’t truly take the place of a real camcorder. There’s crossover for sure, but the Flip shines for filming informal moments. It fits in your pocket, there’s no fuss to starting it up, people aren’t as self-conscious around it as they are around a camcorder. Its low mass and sturdy (industry standard) mounting point allows you to get footage from angles you’d never even dream of with a camcorder. It really is a different animal.

    Lessons to be learned? Yes; for a start, don’t assume that the feature paradox is a rule. Pure Digital turned that idea on its head. The Flip has next to no ‘features’ – of course, that is its biggest feature. The most complicated thing you can do on the Ultra is set the date, and the basic model doesn’t even allow that. Secondly, go to great pains to make sure that your underlying product is of high quality. You don’t get your camcorder on Oprah if your core product is flawed in its basic operation, no matter how innovative the interface. Thirdly, don’t punish your users, as mentioned above.

    I find it interesting that Pure Digital came from very humble beginnings – cheap, low-quality one-time-use cameras sold in drugstores. Nobody took them seriously, but they used that experience (and doubtless the capital it earned them) to hone their killer app. I think there’s a lesson to be learned there as well.

  4. Alan Wexelblat Says:

    When your newsletter includes a blurb about your podcast could you please put in a URL to the ‘cast? Thanks.

  5. Ann Handley Says:

    What’s more, what I totally love about the Flip is the “soccer mom” factor: It sets the barrier to video production really low, thereby allowing anyone with an internet connection, eyesight and a thumb the ability to create video. I love the way that the best new technologies — including the Flip — increasingly remove barriers and give everyone a “voice” in the digital space.

    Is it perfect…? Heck, no. But those who are bugged by its imperfections will upgrade; and for those who aren’t bugged… well, it suits them fine.

  6. Pat McGarvey Says:

    The flip video takes very good videos and is easy to use. But, you definitely need to buy an adapter for downloading. I tried 3 different computers and laptop and none could fit the video camera without removing other items. Amazon sells a very good one (I bought it) that got great reviews and was cheap. The reviews for the $14.00 adapter sold by the Flip video company got very poor ratings.

    I abandoned the slow camera software. The software also locks you into downloading to the My.. folders, which doesn’t work for me. I like putting my videos into a designated folder.

    All in all though, the camera is lots of fun and is cheap. I’m not sure how long the batteries will last, but so far so good.

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