Saturday, October 20, 2007

Target Stores and Design

OK, so I'm a Furniture and Product designer by education and profession. I'll get that out of the way up front. Target's greatest edge over competing stores, in my view, is their stated focus on design. They even do follow up on that promise most of the time.

I needed a TV tray stand, and noticed Target had some good looking wood ones on sale recently. I was one of 6 kids and TV trays were common and popular items in my home as well as the homes of my baby boomer generation friends. That was 40 years ago, and what stuns me about the Target TV stand I picked up is how it is exactly the same in look and function as those of my childhood. It is so unchanged in design that it has the same flaws.

- The x-frame can pinch fingers when folding up.
- The lower stretcher between sides is too low to tuck your feet under, despite the fact that it is right where your feet naturally want to be when using the stand.
- The legs are too close together. A few more inches and the user could have choices of how to sit rather than being forced to sit with knees together straight legged under the tray.

Now there HAS been a little design since that TV tray of my childhood was available. You can get wood or metal trays. You can get rectangular or oval or extra wide or lipped trays now. These are mainly aesthetic changes. Design, though, can be both aesthetic and functional. My designer mind can see easy ways to improve on this x-frame design that would be less expensive to produce, easier to store, original in style, and more useful as a portable tray.

I mentioned in earlier blogs that I have an Ipod Touch. I've been looking in all my local stores for any kind of case I can keep it in. It's a new product, and anything for it is slow to the stores. They do have all sorts of arm band and belt clip and such for the assorted other dozen or so MP3 players out there. Target has a dozen or so devices you can plug your ipod into for some amplification of the music it plays. None of these are optimized for the iTouch or iPhone. The unique nature of both ipods demand a unique set of products to support them. I'll predict an armband holder for both that will allow you to rotate the screen 360 degrees and yet hold it in either a vertical or horizontal position when you want it there. It will also need to let you flip the iTouch or iPhone over to protect the screen and be held on the inside of your forearm. In a perfect world, the armband will have a bluetooth dock connector that will send the music wirelessly to your bluetooth earpiece or headphones. If your headphones have basic controls (like Play, Pause, Next Track, Previous Track, Stop, etc.) they'll work to control the music. I've got a nice pair of bluetooth headphones from Best Buy that I'd love to use in conjuction with my iTouch.

Another iTouch prediction: The browser and Music App both rotate as you rotate your itouch, to keep the info you are looking at aligned with your point of view. None of the other included Apps do. If I have the iTouch or iPhone on my arm, I'll want the clock or calendar at least to rotate so I can read them without twisting my head. I'll predict that in some update of the firmware Apple will add rotation to all the basic apps. They also need to improve the calculator. Yes, 3rd party apps could add the needed improvements. These Ipods should be better with what they include right out of the box, though. I predict they will get better.

Tell me what products you've seen at Target that are the same as they were 20 or more years ago. I'll bet you they could be improved both functionally and aesthetically. Sadly the things that haven't changed have remained the same because they continue to be just good enough. Did you imagine that your house would look just like your parents house when you grew up? I watched the Jetsons, and am wondering why furniture and product design hasn't taken ANY great steps forward since that show was on. Little steps, yes. Big steps, barely.

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