We've all seen the demos of BlackBerry 10 on dev alpha hardware. It looks good, no question. But I'm worried. The marketing has to be strong. And as a student of marketing, I've come to adopt the view that everything is marketing. This is a concept that was explained beautifully in the book "Rework", by the founders of 37 Signals.
If you adopt the view that everything is marketing, then the the look of the home screen of a new mobile OS seems pretty darn important. It's the first thing people will see when they look at the screen. It's the most likely photo to show up in a blog post, newspaper story or TV commercial.
So need I really say this? If the home screen icons look like crap, people will think your device and OS is crap. These assumptions happen unconsciously and nearly instantaneously. A product designer who thinks like a marketer will prevent this from happening.
Enter BlackBerry 10.
CrackBerry.com held a poll asking you for your opinion on the BlackBerry 10 icons. We've seen two iterations of icons so far, and most of you think the current icons are horrible.
I agree, and I refuse to sugar coat it. Kevin was kind to say he's "less fond" of the new icons. I personally think they're flat out ugly, and I'm a little worried that RIM doesn't get the importance of making absolutely everything look amazing.
We get that RIM wants to create a sense of continuity between icons and Active Frames, as Kevin already explained in the post that accompanied the above-mentioned poll. But that's no excuse to settle for horrible design.
I'm the first to admit that I have zero artistic skill. But when my gut tells me something is ugly, and a poll of over 9000 CrackBerry readers confirms my feeling, something has to change.
I think the current home screen design looks clunky, old, and far from modern and fresh. I'm not sure if it's just the icons, or if it's how they blend with the lighter blue background color that RIM is now using on the home screen. The color scheme seems horribly bland to me.
My message to RIM is simple. Start focusing more on the small things. They matter, especially when they are part of the first impression. Perhaps the home screen you're showing off isn't final. At CrackBerry we understand everything we have seen to date in BlackBerry 10 is pre-release and may change -- whether a little or a lot -- by launch. But the public believes it's moving backwards. That's not good. It's not that RIM needs a fresh team of designers. You have them. We have seen a lot of great visually stimulating ideas come from the folks at The Astonishing Tribe (aka RIM Sweden). Unleash that talent. Don't reign it in nor hold it back. Have several new variations of designs made. Get 18 year old kids to vote on them, not the older crowd. Then you'll be set to go to market with a phone that looks sexy in photos. The flow experience is unique and amazing. It needs visuals that match it. But the way the home screen is presented today looks as if it's old and is due for a refresh, even before BlackBerry 10 has gone to market. It needs to change.
Update from Kevin: So it appears RIM is responding already here to our desire for an updated homescreen look, as just yesterday they announced on their dev blog that they will be changing the size of the icons on the application grid. Odds are good then we'll see new creative hit, and hopefully it'll feature a sexier look. That being the case, it doesn't really change Chris' overall message in this post, which is that RIM needs to be acutely aware that anything they make public will be judged by people -- whether final or prerelease -- and that they need to be making their homescreen experience look sexy from day one. The boxy icons should never have seen the time of day to begin with, and as a result shouldn't have been needed to be changed. *