iPhone-based “Crisis of Design” inside Samsung, company memo reveals

August 7, 2012
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The U.S. Apple vs Samsung patent war marches forward, and after having seen the obvious similarities between some of the default app icons found on the iPhone app and some of Samsung’s Galaxy-branded devices, we’re going to show you an internal Samsung memo from February 2010, which reveals how JK Shin, Samsung’s head of mobile communications, was basically trying to address the disruption the iPhone was causing at the time in the mobile business.

Samsung tried to keep the memo out of court, but John Quinn, Samsung’s counsel, mentioned the “crisis of design” while questioning Samsung strategist Justin Denison. The “crisis of design” statement is basically how you could describe the memo detailing Shin’s arguments.

The memo, included below, shows that Samsung realized in early 2010 that it’s the iPhone that needs to be beaten and that Apple is the real threat for Samsung’s mobile division, not Nokia. The original Galaxy S was unveiled only a few months later at CTIA 2010 – in fact, it looks like Samsung advised its engineers not to attend MWC 2010, but rather stay and work on upcoming products.

Here’s the memo in question, we have underlined the most relevant parts, while the bolded parts are exactly how they were written in the original message:

I attended the meeting described below. There are a few corrections and missing items.

Strive to realize UX that is easy to use regardless of age, occupation, and education, UX that is not like UX, UX that flows like water as its alarm goes off when you wake in the morning, then has the news coming out of it as you get ready to leave for work.

To this the Senior Vice President said, That’s what we’re doing, to which Head of Division said, “No, I’m not saying do that for everything;

I’m saying I like it this way, but others may have UXs that they like based on their individuality So, we should be able to accommodate that. UX that’s not called UX and not like UX. I don’t mean UX needs to disappear; it’s something that is a matter of course, so even if we don’t call it UX, if we use it it’s as a matter of course.”

I wrote it all down without leaving out a single grammatical particle out. I get the gist of it but it’s convoluted…Argh…

[The part above is apparently the introduction of the Forwarded memo that circulated inside Samsung at the time, while the following part describes what happened at the “Executive-Level Meeting Supervised by Head of Division” – the meeting took place on February 10, while the email is dated February 11, 2010]

Screens are our most important asset. It is very important that we increase the size of our screen.

To explain this point more concretely, he talked about the TVs that are in homes as an example. . Before, everyone used small TVs but nowadays, every house has a large TV. Everyone wants to look at a big screen. It is the same for mobile phones. Once you’ve come across a touch phone, you desire to view the contents in a larger screen.

A judge speaks through judgments, an engineer speaks through products, and a designer should not need to speak.

There is a saying that “Judges speak through their judgments.” Have you heard that? (Nobody answers…) You haven’t heard that? Engineers don’t need to say, “I implemented this however which way” and don’t need to talk about this problem or that. They show, with the very product they have developed.

Does not President Choi demand to see the mockup first, before he listens to any explanations?

Designers, for your part, do not speak; show your properly executed design.

- I absolutely never demand anything unreasonable of you. I never make you do anything that is difficult. And I speak in simple terms. I never talk in a vague and ambiguous manner, I speak in precise terms. Recognize that.

- The most important aspect of a design is its level of perfection. I hope that you do your best to increase the level of perfection until you have achieved higher quality.

- A company goes out of business because of its own success factors. Samsung’s success factors are diligence, sincerity, and acting in an exemplary manner. The kind that says yes to whatever a carrier wants

That’s a shortcut to going out of business. All the carriers tell me, Hey JK! Your phones have great technological prowess and everything’s great. But it’s hard to sell them as high-end phones.

That’s because we spent all of our subsidy funds on the iPhone and can’t give a penny in subsidy to your phones, so of course your phones will be expensive and then it follows that they won’t sell. I hear things like this: Let’s make something like the iPhone.

When everybody (both consumers and the industry) talk about UX, they weigh it against the iPhone. The iPhone has become the standard. That’s how things are already.

Do you know how difficult the Omnia is to use? When you compare the 2007 version of the iPhone with our current Omnia, can you honestly say the Omnia is better? If you compare the UX with the iPhone, it’s a difference between Heaven and Earth.

- If a shabby UX gets proposed, we put together a task force with Senior Vice President Young Hwan Kim as its leader to stop development. Now we’re making a process by which if that kind of UX gets proposed, it’ll get stopped and Improvements can be made.

- He called out the names of the leaders of each section. Where is Principal Sung-Sik Lee? (Senior Vice President Jang: He went to Suwon.) Is he living in Suwon? (Yes, still living there, he took everyone with him and is living there with about forty people.) He’s suffering, right? I know you guys are suffering. Have things gotten better?

(Yes, it’s getting better). Good, good, they should. Let’s muster up more strength.

You are the experts. I’m not a designer, as you know. But in my opinion there are so many designs that depart from common sense. Sometimes I’ve thought I’m looking at a college graduation project. I’ve never said so because I didn’t want to discourage you, but since you’re the heads of your sections so I’m saying it. I look at things from the perspective of consumers, so I fix things that don’t make sense. It would be nice if I could look at everything but I can’t, so you’ll have to do it well yourselves.

For goodness sake let’s get things done while working within the realm of common sense. When it comes to UX, fix things that make sense first. I’ve always said this, haven’t I? A UX that can be used by anyone from six year olds to senior citizens. Ease of use is the answer.

- I live in Bundang and it only takes me 30 minutes to get here. I’ll come by here from time to time early in the morning or in the evening for discussions like this. Don’t you go on business trips, stay here and improve quality. Don’t even go to MWC. Why do we need to go see the Chinese products that are there because no one else shows up? None of you should go.

- *** To product designers, he said, you must make three or four design languages a year and put them to good use! The look and feel of a product matters most.

To UX designers, he said, you must increase the level of perfection, make products within the realm of common sense and based on comfort and ease of use

To everyone, he said you must think at least six months ahead; be the solution to the problems that related departments come looking.

[The following email is a message sent on February 10, titled “Summary of Executive-Level Meeting Supervised by Head of Division (February 10)”, and it’s part of the same document that’s now available to the press. Some sections may repeat the details offered in the email above. The meeting took roughly 80 minutes, and was attended by a variety of Samsung top execs, according to the same document.]

[Our] quality isn’t good, perhaps because the designers are chased along by our schedule as they get so many models done. Don’t you say “laughable” about something that is so lacking in the level of perfection that you’re embarrassed to show someone? It’s better to not make anything at all than to make it in a laughable way. All you do is make things hard for the consumer if you put a product on the market that was made in a laughable and makeshift manner. In all the work you do, do it with the mindset that once it leaves your hands it’s final, do all you can to make a final product with a high level of perfection, having checked and improved on it meticulously and in detail numerous times over.

Designers rightly should be respected and recognized within [their] organization, and in society outside the organization. Work with self-confidence, but there needs to be change in the methods by which you work.

I’ll be tied up with various strategy meetings and overseas business trips until March but after March it is my intention to set each and every thing right around here. It seems like there’s an unnecessary increasing of the number of products at product planning. The path to improving Quality is to eliminate inefficient models and reduce the number of models overall.

Right now we’re expecting to do around 350 models in the first half of this year. If you ask the companies, the Operators we deal with, whether they like that we launch one model right after the another, [the answer is] absolutely not. Quantity isn’t what’s important, what’s important is putting on the market models with a high level of perfection, one to two Excellent ones.

We are at the point where we can proudly say we’re worthy of being No. 2 in the Telecom Industry, and since we are in a position where we are Leading the Industry, what is most important is that we select one Design Language based on “creativity” befitting our status, and do Maximum Variation with Language.

Minimize the time Senior Vice President Donghoon Chang and the rest of the designers spend going back and forth from Suwon and the time spent away from Seocho on things like overseas business trips and try to spend long periods of time with subordinates putting your heads together to come up with the best results.

I don’t know how many of you are getting ready to go to MWC, but not only are Nokia and many other companies saying they’re not going to participate, there’s also nothing to see, so don’t go.

See to it that should anyone come to Seocho, that person gets the feeling that there’s something metaphysical, mysterious, and secretive, and see to it that you do not show non-final designs that are in an intermediate stage to this person and that person, and then gather various comments and make corresponding modifications.

Designers rightly must make their own designs with conviction and confidence; do not strive to do designs to please me (the president); instead make designs with faces that are creative and diverse.

I have confidence in our products’ H/W, in their exterior design, and in their quality. But when it comes to the ease of use of our UX, I lack such confidence.

Influential figures outside the company come across the iPhone, and they point out that “Samsung is dozing off.”

All this time we’ve been paying all our attention to Nokia, and concentrated our efforts on things like Folder, Bar, Slide, yet when our UX is compared to the unexpected competitor Apple’s iPhone, the difference is truly that of Heaven and Earth.

It’s a crisis of design.

The world is changing, and the flow of change isn’t something that you can have come back again by going against the flow.
Metamorphosis requires energy; we have ample assets in the form of our people, so as long as we are equipped with capability, the world’s change will function for us as an advantageous opportunity.

All the executives and employees in the Mobile Communications Division are diligent and exemplary that all this time, when Operators made comments about the designs we put before them, we modified and modified again, without missing a single comment. That style of business has worked until now, but the iPhone’s emergence means the time we have to change our methods has arrived. .

In regards to exteriors, do your best not to create a plastic feeling and instead create a Metallic feel.

As for UX, see to it that it is a UX that is easy to use regardless of age, occupation, and level of education, that it’s a UX that’s not like a UX, that, just like the flow of water, its alarm rings when you wake in the morning then out comes the news while you’re getting ready to leave for work, see to it that you’re able to come up with that kind of UX.

Our most important asset is our Screen.

It is very important that we make Screen Size bigger, and in the future mobile phones will absorb even the Function of e-books.

The concern about being too far ahead is that it can also mean failure; so our designers need to think at least six months ahead; they need enough prior preparation to resolve whatever sales or product planning says about their designs.

From now on I’ll come to Seocho more often and agonize together with you.

If you have something to report, don’t come to Suwon bearing a bag of mockups, just call me anytime.

A judge speaks through judgments, an engineer speaks through products, and a designer should not need to speak.

That is all.

So, from the looks of it, the iPhone was become quite a headache for Samsung at a time it didn’t have a flagship Android product capable of fighting competitively against the iPhone. To put things in perspective, at the time of this 80-minute executive meeting took place, the HTC Nexus One was already selling for a couple of months, a device launched hot on the heels of the Motorola Droid, the device that helped Android step up its game against iOS, while Apple was working on the iPhone 4, a device that was then leaked in full in April 2010.

With the above memo, Apple can prove that Samsung saw the iPhone as the main threat for the company, and decided to create products along the lines of the iPhone. However, nowhere in the document are found direct instructions to copy the look and feel of the iPhone.

At the same time, the email discredits some the points that Samsung’s lawyers are trying to make, that Samsung did work on touchscreen-based devices long before the first iPhone was launched. Neither of those models were successful products, nor were the devices launched by Samsung as a response to the first two iPhone generations, or else Samsung wouldn’t have had this particular executive meeting.

We’ll be back with more details on the trial, so don’t go anywhere as we dig up this perks from the evidence submitted by both parties.

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