Light’s L16 is a big departure from the traditional model of the camera that we know and love today. Whether you shoot on mirrorless, DSLR or smartphone the L16 is going to look totally alien compared to what you’re used to, with its bizarre 16 lenses and chic, near-buttonless form factor. At RISE 2016, Asia’s biggest tech conference, Light CEO Dave Grannan walked us through the steps his company went through to create this entirely new product. His company believes that it can bridge the gap between traditional cameras and smartphones and “permanently end the tradeoff of quality and convenience.”
Introducing the L16, Grannan hit the audience with a couple of shocking statistics right off the bat. “Thanks to smartphones, we now live in a world with a billion and a half photographers, who collectively share a trillion and a half photos every year,” he says. “It’s become a competitive sport that has its own scoring system.” In 2016, everybody wants to share their images, he explains, but the tradeoff between quality photography equipment and portability and convenience is too great.
Smartphones are good, but none of them take photos as impressive as we’d like. DSLR and mirrorless systems are great too, but they’re often not with us when the perfect photo opportunity presents itself. To solve this problem, Light are attempting to break the camera industry with a product that can be both portable and powerful, and that’s how the L16 was born. To arrive here, however, there was a lengthy design process that can be broken down into four sections.
“When you’re designing any product, you’ve got to talk to people and you’ve got to do it a lot,” Grannan explains. Developing empathy comes from talking to users and finding out what they want from your product. In designing the L16, Light used multiple levels of user testing.
The first level was a ‘standing panel’ of about 12 photographers from across the spectrum of users, including National Geographic photographers and Instagram influencers. These users were consulted on a regular basis for product feedback and design suggestions. The second tier was a ‘rotating panel’ of users with less photography experience. Panel members were changed regularly to allow for a broad base of experience across a wide range of user perspectives.
Grannan explains that one of the key difficulties at this point was figuring out how to appeal to both professional photographers and amateur smartphone shooters at the same time. Light wants pros to be easily able to use the more in-depth features of the camera, while maintaining a simple and friendly user interface for beginners. This user testing stage was vital to figuring out how to do that.
Designing for Delight
Light mapped the journey of the photographer from pressing the shutter to sharing the photo on social media. Based on user testing, Grannan demonstrates that there is a decrease in overall user experience between these two points. Editing and processing are the biggest pain points in the journey of photography, he observes, so Light set out to not only decrease the distance between those two points, but also to make editing as seamless as possible. “We want to make the entire experience as optimal as it can be,” Grannan says. For this reason, editing apps are built into the Android-based ecosystem of the L16.
In another case study, he highlights the shutter button of the L16. In the design phase, Light wanted the camera to be sleek and minimal, with as few physical buttons as possible. However, during user testing, they found that one of the most satisfying points on the user journey was pressing the shutter button. “People love that mechanical clunk that they get with a DSLR, feeling that mirror move,” Grannan explains. The L16, as a response, built in haptic feedback to provide clear user feedback when the shutter button was pressed.
In this stage, feedback from various user tests is implemented and the camera is designed as a prototype, or perhaps as multiple prototypes. “Before we even had foam models we would use paper cutouts of UI models we’d designed to see how people reacted,” Grannan recalls.
Light tested first models and later prototypes in various situations and with a broad range of users. Testing was performed in bright sunlight, in low-light conditions, on the road, etc. Grannan and his team wanted to be sure that the L16 would perform optimally in any scenario, and if it didn’t, they’d adjust the design to improve wherever possible.
“Rinse and repeat,” Grannan calls this stage. Iterating on the feedback from users, the L16 and its UI was designed and redesigned again and again to ensure it fit the needs of as many users as possible.
Grannan highlights the UI design, elaborating again on the importance of appealing the to first-time users and seasoned pro photographers with the same software, allowing pros to access in-depth features while hiding them away from users who just want to point and shoot. Vertical orientation and one-handed operation are both key considerations in this phase, and Grannan walks us through dozens of different UI concepts that were tested before settling on the final design.
Based on early sales figures (the product was sold out within two days of its announcement) Grannan and his team have achieved something remarkable with this product. Although prospective buyers can sign up for more information about the L16, it looks unlikely that the company will be shipping more until late 2016 at the earliest. To find out more about the camera, you can read our write-up or visit the Light website.