SAN JOSE, Calif. – At the peak of work on Samsung’s first Galaxy smartphones, the team of about 300 designers spent three months together in Seoul sleeping as little as two hours a night. A senior user interface designer said she felt so stressed her body would no longer produce the breast milk she was pumping to send to her newborn at home.
“Those were difficult times,” said Jeeyeun Wang, who helped design icons and screen displays for the handsets, speaking through a translator with what sounded at one moment like a catch in her throat.
“Samsung is a very hard company to work at--it’s a very hard-working company,” said Wang, an attractive middle-aged Korean woman with a stoic demeanor, dressed in a salmon denim blazer and simple black dress.
Asked if she copied any icons or layouts of Apple iPhone screens, “Not at all,” she replied through the translator in testimony for the defense in a $2.5 billion patent infringement suit Apple filed against the Korean giant.
The moment provided a rare look into the human side of one of the world’s largest electronics companies, and one no doubt carefully calculated to appeal to the sympathies of the nine-person jury here.
Wang’s story echoed tales of Apple’s own industrial designers who talked about long, sometimes contentious debates gathered around a kitchen table where they routinely meet. It also harkened back to even earlier stories—not told at the trial—of an Apple designer so stressed during the design of its failed Newton handheld he committed suicide, a fact only discovered when a New York Times reporter followed the lead of a dedication at the bottom of the code in the device’s software.
For a moment, the high profile trial here, turned its attention to a subject not at issue in the case—the work/life balance of engineers and designers in the pressure cooker of the electronics industry. But the focus quickly snapped back to the details of patent infringement.
Samsung attorney John Quinn asked Wang about the distinctive icon of a white telephone receiver against a green background used both in Galaxy phones and the iPhone.
“We called it a ‘dumbell’ icon,” she said.
“The icon was in use before I joined the company in 2002. The green has a positive connotation, meaning go, do or make the call. A red color would mean don’t or stop,” she added.