Classic Example of Great Ergonomic Design

Ben Cullen

"it is a testament to the quality of the user research and product design that this design has remained largely unchanged"


The Sky Digital TV Remote Control

There are products that make you smile and there are products that drive you crazy; there are even products you use everyday that you don't think twice about, because they.....just work!  One example that I feel falls firmly into the later category is a well designed television remote control.  Probably the most ubiquitous of these is the Sky Digital remote. When UK design consultancy Frazer Designers were asked to design a new remote control for the Sky Digital satellite TV system back in 1998, their brief was to create the most user friendly and ergonomic remote control ever designed.

To achieve this they started at the end.....the end users to be precise.  They studied a large number of people while they were watching TV and interfacing with their remote controls, the aim being to identify the most frequently used buttons and those which are used for the most prolonged periods of time. The resultant analysis came up with the following usage map:

Sky usage map.jpg

As you can see, the most frequently used buttons and those which were used for longer durations are grouped together in zone 3.  The buttons that are hardly pressed at all are in zone 1. Armed with this data, Frazer Designers were able to design a remote that presented the controls to the user in the most ergonomic and user friendly arrangement possible.

Designers refer to this type of user-centered research as 'contextual or observational studies' and there really is no better way to understand how users behave and interact with the products they use. After this user research, many concepts were generated of which ergonomic models were made, tested and refined to ensure the weight and balance of the device was perfect for a wide range of hand sizes regardless of handedness.
At ide Group we believe that early validation of concepts is vital to the efficient development of any product; whether it's asking someone to play with a block of blue foam, or watching someone handle a mock up cobbled together with card and sticky tape!  So much can be learnt from this kind of fast, cheap, early prototyping.

So, back to the story; the images below show three iterations of this iconic design. To the left is the original design from 1998 and in the middle is the current Sky+ remote controller with a few extra buttons to accommodate record and playback functionality. The image to the right will be familiar to many Australian households and is the current Foxtel iQ remote, which has obviously borrowed heavily on the ergonomic principles originally established by Frazer Designers.
With over 10 million of these remote controls in use today, it is a testament to the quality of the user research and product design that this design has remained largely unchanged in over 16 years.


sky-foxtel remote.jpg

At ide Group we're passionate about design and have developed a number of tools, techniques and processes (like ones discussed in this blog) to Discover, Develop & Deliver successful products for our clients. Maybe one day in the distant future somebody might write a blog about one of your designs!

Erin Evanochko