Keyed In



At almost any level, Research In Motion’s (RIM) Blackberry is an executive’s must-have accessory. The tried-and-true device has gone from a black-and-white messaging machine to essentially a handheld computer. Life + Times caught up with Todd Wood, RIM’s VP of Industrial Design, to thumb through the brand’s ethos on design and identity.

Life + Times: What’s BlackBerry’s overall approach to designing its products?
Todd Wood
: With each design we are extending our family of products and, like family members, each has a unique character that appeals differently to our wide range of users. To define this character, we engage users to understand their likes, dislikes and how they feel about the products. From there, we create concepts and models for users to test and evaluate. This is “design in motion,” which is an iterative process of progressing, honing, and creating. We continue to evolve the design until we reach the optimal solution that has a distinguishing character and balances both science and art.

L+T: How has BlackBerry differentiated its design from its competitors?
: BlackBerry is a unique, valued, and highly recognizable brand and we have carved out a leadership position for our brand through what is now considered an iconic design. The BlackBerry look and feel combines display, navigation, and QWERTY keyboard elements in a symmetric composition. Our users have come to know these core elements of our brand and we remain true to them while stretching the boundaries to innovate and add a wow factor.

L+T: What was the approach to creating a touch-screen BlackBerry device?
: The value and benefit of touch interaction is direct manipulation of the content. And the challenge with touch is target size, primarily due to the size of our fingers. Our approach for weaving touch into the BlackBerry experience for Torch is a combination touch screen and an optical trackpad for fine navigation. When you use the BlackBerry Torch it feels very natural to touch the screen for gestures like swipe, while intuitively switching to fine navigation with the track pad for something like text editing.

L+T: What were the challenges in designing the Torch?
: The design for the BlackBerry Torch started with a challenging question: “How can we combine a large, brilliant display, touch user interface, our new BlackBerry 6 operating software and our industry leading QWERTY keyboard into a fresh but familiar product?” We took this challenge back to our labs and began to research, brainstorm, play, and test different concepts. After much research, analysis and design concepts, we decided that the vertical slider was the ideal answer. Once the design direction was locked down, the focus turned to making the form and function look and feel luxurious, strong, smooth and beautiful open and closed. This meant we had to make our signature keyboard extremely thin and strong enough to deliver the durability our customers expect. We designed a spring-loaded slider mechanism that is incredibly sleek, thin, and fluid, without compromising the precision, durability, or confidence of the iconic BlackBerry brand. The result was a unique transforming device that exudes “BlackBerry-ness.”

L+T: What’s the inspiration that goes into designing a BlackBerry?
: Our design team is inspired by many things, but it’s rarely the same thing twice. Inspiration can come from anywhere and at any time. Customer engagement is a primary source. Fashion trends also inspire our designs – watches, sunglasses, and shoes can all influence designs. We pay attention to the world around us to gain insight into what resonates with consumers and culture. A BlackBerry, like a car, is a reflection of the taste and style of the user.

L+T: How do you balance form and function for each BlackBerry?
: It is important to achieve the balance of form and function because if one overtakes the other, it compromises the experience. The BlackBerry design team thoughtfully integrates balance by using the iterative approach to design—modifying, refining, and testing to ensure the perfect balance of form and function. In this process you reach a point where you can’t take anything away or add more to the design.

L+T: Is there a correlation between the hardware design of a BlackBerry and the operating system?
: The BlackBerry Industrial Design team focuses primarily on hardware, but we work together with our software User Experience team with a shared brand vision in mind. In many ways we respect the fact that the hardware is fundamentally a vessel for content, and a stage for the user interface [UI] performance. Shape, color and iconography differentiate the various functions of the UI. With this in mind we choose hardware forms and finishes that complement the UI.

L+T: Since BlackBerry has become mainstream, how have the designs reflected that?
: The smartphone industry is undergoing rapid transformation and growth. Over the years, smartphones have evolved and expanded beyond corporate offices and have become part of consumers’ lives, and as this evolution has happened, smartphones broadened their features to include multimedia players, cameras and social networking capabilities. We’ve also seen how smartphones have become personal devices – ones that reflect individual styles and needs. This is one of the most exciting areas for my Industrial Design team – creating different form factors, finishes and designs that reflect individual styles and preferences. We’ve found that the smartphone market is definitely not a “one size fits all” industry and we’re constantly researching design trends and customer preferences when designing future BlackBerry smartphones. (BlackBerry)

  • Damon L. Rice

    I would love to see some of that “innovation” on a device like the Torch 9800 (which I own) go to a horizontal qwerty keyboard. The standard vertical slider keyboard is fine if you have hands the size of a child! Come on RIM! Lets evolve with the rest of the market out there… please!

  • Doug

    RIM is horrible. Outdated garbage if you ask me. In another 2 years, they’ll be in Nokia’s position.

  • Ed

    RIM lacks innovation.

  • Big Will


  • William Holla Esq.

    soon Blackberry is finished April 26th iphone

  • Dominik

    RIM is starting to suffer the same fate as Palm and Windows Mobile. They became way to complacent in their products and now they have become the after thought in a crowded mobile computing world.

    No one is going to slow down or stop Google and Apple will continue to have a strong following by giving consumers an inexpensive OS X/iOS experience.

    RIM will by a strong third for awhile but I have a feeling that HP is going to give Apple & RIM a run for their money with WebOS. We shall see.

    Good luck to RIM.

  • Joe Grrrcia

    The size is what makes it super functional.

    Joe Garcia

  • WW


  • Ronald Gaineous

    “Smarten up Nas!”

    Anyone who thinks RIM is dying knows nothing about business and business models. RIMs core demographic are business professionals. RIMs BlackBerry device has Corporate America on lock!

    Case and point, to the individual who posted “I own a BlackBerry b/c my IPhone is compatible with my firms email”, that’s the point. RIMs secret sauce is their exclusive secure network. With everything happening today surrounding information security, their secret sauce is working just fine. I mean c’mon, OBAMA made the SS change the rules to allow him to keep his BlackBerry.

    To reference a Jay-z line RIM is till spending money from 98!

  • Dominik

    @Ronald Gaineous Are you sure about that?

    Windows Mobile as well as Palm devices at one point had the enterprise side on lock, now they’re looking up at everyone else.

    Also the numbers don’t back up what you’re saying, “Android now has a third of the US market (33%). RIM’s share has plummeted to 29%. Apple is holding at 25%.”

    Read more:

  • Francisco Guzman

    Not all devices need to be innovative to be stay in the market. Are u forgetting that people are creatures of habit and maybe they LIKE the RIM system and how it operates, in that case. Give them more of what they already like and don’t have a problem with. Now if RIM thinks they want to take over the market, then innovation is surely necessary..but theu’ll figure that out through their R&D or Die Trying…

  • Hustle Beats

    i’m a loyal BlackBerry user and always will be … everyone just following the hype of a very good marketing company .. Apple. They know how to brainwash … RIM 4 LIFE!

  • Ronald Gaineous

    I’m sure about that. You’re correct, the iphone and droid have gained market share,but to say that RIM will die is absurd. Even I don’t see either the iphone or droid taking over market share of Corp America accounts. The CAPEX needed to undo all of the IT infrastructure that currently exists to support the RIM secure network alone will make Corp America accounts stay with the status quo.

  • Christian Castro

    i love blackberry, its the perfect phone as far as email communication and planning/organization

  • Dominik

    @Ronald Gaineous

    They seem to be in a position that others have been before but this time there is a company giving away a very solid mobile OS that is customizable.

    RIM failed to innovate while others had no choice but to be innovative in order to get consumers attention (Palm waited on releasing a new OS and the iPhone came out, Windows Mobile just didn’t seem to care about the user experience).

    The reason why RIM is still a huge part of corporate culture is #1 Android & iOS are still fairly new mobile operating systems #2 Corporations are always the last to change due to the money involved in change #3 Perception of BlackBerry devices being better business tools (maybe 2-3 years ago but not the case as much anymore).

    Right now it is probably cheaper for most people/companies to buy an Android based device plus you’ve got more options due to Google flooding the market (on every network).

    Not to mention that they have much “cooler” looking and feature packed than RIM devices.

    Corporations will have their own custom made skins on top of Android devices which they will have complete control over and developed in house.

    If they control the skin & the permissions then they no longer need RIM because they can do everything (security wise) in house & remotely.

    Also everyone is looking at saving costs, and BlackBerry data plans are higher more just to have access to a BES.

    They’re not dead yet and won’t be anytime soon but their days are numbered.

    I read a rumor that RIM was thinking of releasing the BBM as an app which would be great.

    Companies come and go, RIM is no different, especially with the companies that they’re competing against.

  • E.

    You cannot beat a blackberry baby lol ESPECIALLY for business! Once you truly truly master a blackberry you may switch to another device but you will be back and the secret is the trackball/pad lol. But I agree with another poster RIM made a mistake when they designed the TORCH keyboard vertically instead of HORIZONTAL. IMO I think it would have sold a lot more had they.

  • SutterZilla!!!


  • Anonymous

    This phone is unreal! Best phone I have ever had! If you like toys, this phone is not for you. Blackberry’s are for people who get shit done!

  • Dominik

    Someone mentioned President Obama having a BlackBerry as their argument, well Mr. President isn’t satisfied with his mobile device either according to this report:

    “Obama said that “when it comes to technology, we are like 30 years behind,” and he’s not just talking about some ancient Windows desktops left over from the previous administration in the West Wing. He went on to complain about the lack of “really cool phones and stuff,” saying, “I’m the president of the United States.”

    RIM will one day be a great software platform but they’ve still got die hard fans that will have to have their devices pried from their hands.

  • Tsakane Shiburi


  • Btuuced Mkmkm

    I love blackberries

  • Kolette Allen

    I owned the first BB and owned seven total. I recently switch over to the IPhone not necesssarily for the hype of Apple. I just got bored with the BB. I was the go to person at my job, I was giving my own personal tutorials.

    iPhone was something new to explore. It is a amazing piece of equipment – no doubt, but BB will always be my first true smartphone love.

  • Kelly

    I cannot live without my Blackberry. Okay, a little over the top here. My world would be upside down without my Blackberry(much better).

  • c note

    Hmm, it’s a nice ear piece. There’s arguably a lot of better all around performing devices than the BB, but lacks the “business” look that a lot of BB’s have. Just a thought..

  • Dominik

    Just wanted to follow up with the nay sayers and people that believe in RIM.

    Today they announced terrible news for their company. What I quoted below will come true, enjoy your BB while it lasts.

  • Brian Gilmore

    Brian Gilmore: Very Informative!!!!

  • Brian Gilmore

    Brian Gilmore: Very Informative!!!!

  • Markus White

    Blackberrys will always be for those people who “think” they are getting shit done. Yea sure, 5-10 years ago Blackberry was ahead of the game but now they can’t compete with computer companies like Apple and Google. Blackberry will continue to become obsolete while other smart phones like iphone continue to push for inovation.

  • Anonymous

    Most important part of this article: “tried-and-true”.


  • Phillip Evans

    The problem with the blackberry is that it’s become outdated. RIM couldn’t keep up with apple or HTC android phones. Blackberries are for your grandfather. The only way they can ever get back into the marketplace is to hire someone that is younger to run their business.

  • Eb Price

    i’ve had the torch for the last 2 years its a good phone but its a shame you obvs cant get a case due to it being a slide up..

  • Ali Andeku

    as long as blackberry is the only phone manufacturer with its secure mobile network if another company can replicate that (dubious) or they sell the rights to it they will always have a place in the business world. that’s it staying within there niche is all they can do. Wasting money to compete with companies that cater to artistic, gaming, photography, recreational consumers (apple/android/windows etc) is useless. most business professionals will have a BB as well as an iPhone/android. the nature of a keyboard based smartphone is a niche that offers different usability potential from that of a touch screen smartphone.

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