From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Oh No, a Computer That Talks ‘Teen’?

They have their own television networks, their own magazines, even their own lingo. So what else could teenagers possibly need? A computer designed specifically for them, by teens who know what teens want. A computer that speaks in terms that teens understand, and that may even leave parents and traditional PC users wondering exactly how to compose a business letter or spreadsheet or if they should just turn up the music and not bother at all.

That, in a nutshell, is exactly what Kent Savage wanted. As the CEO of Digital Lifestyle, his goal was to design a computer that fit, from a usability perspective, his teenage son. So to design it, he recruited his son and seven of the son’s friends, and started the design process by having the group jot down exactly what they’d like to see in their dream computing machines.

The result was the “hip-e,” built on Savage’s theory that computers are just too dull for today’s teen. Teens, discovered Savage, want computers that speak in their terms and are ready to tackle truly important tasks, at least for a teen, like playing music, instant messaging, watching tv, or quickly connecting to video game consoles. Oh and doing the occasional homework should be simple, too.

Savage admits to taking cues from Apple – a computer name the teens recognized but one that the teens also said their parents wouldn’t purchase because it didn’t run the Windows platform that the parents were already familiar with — in the design of the hip-e. So instead, Savage’s company built a computer that ran Windows but with ergonomic usability that mimicked Apple’s theory: computers should work for the user rather than making the users work to understand them.

They started with a look that is very un-adult: pink fur, faux-leopard or a graffiti print wrap the screen and keyboard. Then they centered on names — the PC itself is called the “node” with accessories like the “playme,” a device that stores and plays mp3s as well as photos and even the teen’s homework for simple to- and from-school transport. Other accessories include the “reachme” — a phone and instant messaging device, and the “beatbox” which hooks up to the playme to become a portable stereo system.

The hip-e, says an article on, also uses simple terms like “paper” to launch Microsoft Word, or “burn CD” to do the obvious (burn a CD), rather than making the teens remember the esoteric names of programs needed to write an essay or copy music. Additionally, Savage decided to implement a “hangout tuner,” a digital dial that gives the user categories of applications, because as he says, teens don’t like to search for programs so “it made sense to organize it for them and serve it up to them.”

Over 20 initial concepts were sorted through by the teens and the designers. Prototypes were tested with focus groups, and ultimately the hip-e that’s currently on the market is the one that offered the teens what they really wanted on their computer, and made using a computer simple for them, rather than for their teachers or parents. And it satisfies what Nevin Watkins, one of the 16-year-olds in the original design group, told CNN he thought a computer should be. “Computers were originally made for adults, for work purposes. I kind of really want a computer for me,” he said.