Samsung's quest for an emotional UX: How'd it turn out?

Years ago, Samsung set out to create a holistic interface that revolved around simplicity to develop a personality for its devices. The Galaxy line of devices sheds light on how Samsung's plan turned out.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Samsung set out years ago to give its devices and user experience a persona and even cooked up a personality test for the various moving parts in the field. Given that Samsung's user experience (UX) treatise was delivered in a presentation in 2008-2009 it's worth assessing whether the electronics giant was successful.

The UX push was surfaced in a treasure trove of documents emerging from the latest Apple-Samsung patent trial. Many of the documents are historical---ancient in smartphone years---but do provide a look into how Samsung and Apple, which is apparently really worried about large screens, think.

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Liz Gannes at Re/Code surfaced a bevy of docs and posted Samsung's UX presentation on Scribd. Samsung's problem at the time was that it didn't have much personality relative to the iPhone, Nokia, BlackBerry and Google phones. It's worth noting that Samsung's presentation features smartphone brands that used to be dominant and have faded away with the exception of Apple.

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Samsung's design group then compared its devices vs. the Android G1, BlackBerry Storm and Nokia 5800 and N95. Samsung even gave mobile phones a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) psychometric questionnaire. The short version is that Samsung concluded it was too technology drive, too modest and lacked personality.

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The company's ambition was to create devices that were simple, powerful but easy to use, helpful, clean, clear, contextual, pleasant, intuitive, sincere and reliable. And that keyword fest is just a sample.

Ultimately, Samsung was going for an emotional UX that revolved around the small things that would add up to a brand feeling.

samsung ux1

Add it up and Samsung has largely delivered on what it set out to do years ago. The overall grade doesn't quite go to Samsung completely given that the company also depended on the development of Android.

We can look at the Samsung Galaxy S4 and S5 as a barometer for the company's UX personality.

Let's take Samsung's UX aspirations from its summary.

samsung ux2


Emotional UX. The Galaxy S4 and S5 are designed to be helpful. Samsung's user interface now includes health apps, memo tools and an Android overlay that's designed to make multitasking easier. The company's approach is certainly helpful, but often veers to the extreme sometimes. There are a lot of overlapping layers between Samsung's overlay and Android. If I were to characterize Samsung devices I'd say they are helpful, modest and border on being annoying at times because they try too hard. However, Samsung does have a personality now. Grade: B.

Focus on the small use cases. Samsung has followed its original presentation to the letter and positions the Galaxy S5 as something that can power your life and is integrated with its Gear smartwatch. Faster Auto Focus is designed to catch life moments; S Health now has heart rate sensor and is designed to be as a workout companion; and Samsung will also beat you over the head with its large display technology. Overall, Samsung does hit those little use cases well, but still has rough edges and lacks refinement in many cases. Grade: B.

A holistic UX across devices. Samsung's overlay does carry across its tablets and smartphones, but Gear will be interesting since it's going to be powered by Tizen. Samsung wants to minimize its dependence on Android and that means its overlay and own software needs to carry the ball. The first effort to bridge devices with UX gets a decent grade, call it a "B," but overall Samsung is incomplete on this front.

Samsung's Profile revolving around simplicity and ease of use. Samsung devices aren't as dead simple as Apple's iOS powered iPad and iPhone, but have closed a lot of gaps. Nevertheless, my experience with Samsung's Galaxy line reveals some quirks that make life a smidge more difficult at times. The challenge is that you're never quite sure whether to blame Samsung or Android. Grade: C.

In the end, Samsung has come a long way from its personality-free devices and it has worked out on both the consumer and enterprise fronts.

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