Samsung Designer Defends Copycat Icons In Apple Case
Samsung designer says she picked phone, clock, and camera icons because they worked, not because they looked like Apple's iPhone icons.
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In a day filled with attorneys' maneuvering, Samsung on Tuesday attempted to put a human face on its defense that it didn't infringe Apple's patents. The face was that of a thirty-ish Korean designer and mother, Leeyuen Wang, who had just given birth to her first child as Samsung mounted its intensive push in 2010 to counter the incursions Apple was making into the smart phone market.
Wang is a senior designer at Samsung and her job title now includes creative director. Taking the stand in black pants, black blouse, and a pleated-in-the-back, lapels-in-front, pink business jacket, she presented a striking figure as Samsung's lead icon designer. She had to speak through an interpreter, but she sat dignified and erect, sure of herself in the unfamiliar setting of a U.S. District Court room.
Previously, the members of the Korean design team had lacked any real substance. The chief strategy officer of Samsung Telecommunications America, Justin Denison, was its main representative. He was a responsible voice but it was clear he hadn't spent much time at company headquarters and was primarily associated with the U.S.-based STA business unit, a portrayal that distanced him from Samsung's design team in Seoul and Gumi, Korea.
Apple's early witnesses, designer Christopher Stringer, who told the court how hard his team had worked on the iPhone and iPad designs, and VP of iOS software, Phil Schiller, had both rubbed elbows with Steve Jobs. Samsung had no equivalent star to put on the stand, but it was finally backing up its claims Tuesday with a qualified design person. Wang has been nominated for designer of the year at Samsung and will receive a multi-million dollar price if she wins.
After establishing credentials, Samsung attorney John Quinn immediately asked her: "Did you copy the layout of the Apple application menu page?"
Quinn asked what it was like to work for Samsung on the Galaxy line of phones.
"Samsung is a company that is very tough to work at. It's a very hard working company. When we developed the Galaxy S 1, we had hundreds of people" in different design disciplines from other Korean cities work together in Seoul. "We all had to come together, work together for three months," she said.
"I seldom got more than two or three hours of sleep a night," she added. The period included added stress as it kept her at work and separated her from her newborn. She attempted to save breast milk for the child to drink in her absence "but breast feeding had to come to a stop because I wasn't able to give milk any longer," she recalled. "It was very hard work, difficult times."
Quinn asked her why smart phone icons often appear similar across various brands.
Wang responded that the same rules of good icon creation apply to all manufacturers. "The user should be able to recognize it right away," she said. The symbol selected must have meaning without being complicated. At the same time, symbols by themselves are too small, once crowded together, to be sure that the user will touch the right one. To lessen the imprecision of typical touch operation, the icon symbols are surrounded by squares with a background color; the squares with rounded corners are as sensitive for invoking the desired application as the symbols themselves. Another way of differentiating icons is through color.
Why did you select a phone icon for the smart phone's calling function? Quinn asked.
What better way to match the function desired than with a symbol of what the caller will use to achieve his goal. The Galaxy's phone icon, clock icon, and camera icon are all symbols of the physical devices used to achieve the desired function, she said.
Quinn pointed out that the phone icon on the Galaxy is very similar to the phone symbol on the Apple iPhone, with a green background.
Picturing a phone as it would be held in the hand in answering a call is a very natural way of portraying the calling function on a smart phone, Wang explained. Both Samsung and Apple use a green background for the telephone handset symbol.
"Green had a positive connotation--go, do it, make the call," Wang responded. Red can be used for the opposite in representing some applications--don't go or stop, she said. Her design team calls such icons "dumbbell icons."
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