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Interview with Motorola’s design director about process of creating new models.
At Motorola Design Tour 2006 event which was held in the end of last week, Ignacio Germade, design director and head of design centers of Motorola in UK and Singapore was kind enough to agree on interview with our web-site.
MR. How materials used in phone’s construction affect process of production?
IG. Very much. Earlier we were using only plastic on construction of our mobile phones, and usually there weren’t problems with its usage that would affect antenna’s work for example. Conformably you can imagine how such phone as RAZR that has metallic case, is much harder to produce. Before starting production you have to make sure that all possible tests were done, and now problems will occur regarding phone’s work. Hence in order to use a new material in production first you have to comprehensively test it. More than that in case manufacturer is introducing new paint into workflow, it should also be tested beforehand, and such factors as metal’s content in it should be noted.
MR. Which new materials will be used in Motorola’s phones in nearest future?
Today we are working with almost all possible materials: plastic, glass, metal. Right now our attention is concentrated on texture of such material as metal. It can be very different depending on texture, polishing, way of polishing, polishing process, that’s why we’re experimenting with different types of metal trimming and will continue working on evolution of this direction.
MR. What’s an average term for phone’s design development?
It takes a year and a half as average and is done at same time with engineering developments.
MR. What percent of retail phone price is occupied by design development costs?
I cannot answer this question. This category is not one of arithmetic ones, if there’s no design – there’s no phone, it’s simply impossible to define certain percent out of this. Design development is integral part of new handset development. In case you think that good phone design makes it more expensive – you’re wrong. It’s impossible that an already developed technical platform would get a good design and become more expensive. In reality, with serious attitude towards design it even helps reducing phone’s price. In case manufacturer is doing correct and wise policy regarding technological progress and used materials, then with help of design it can reduce price of handset in the end. When you talk about Motorola’s designs you often imply RAZR, even though we are designing ultra-budget phones, and quite expensive ones too, and amount of efforts put in both directions is almost equal. An interesting fact is that creating design for expensive phones is an easier task, you have to create overall concept, select best materials, and as for budget models, there’s a harder task: you have to make a really attractive phone by using by far not best materials.
MR. What’s company’s opinion regarding cloning of ideas put inside Motorola RAZR?
Answer is simple: when you’re on top people follow you. Motorola is leader in design, that’s why it’s not a surprise for us that many solutions are replicated by our competitors. For me personally such attitude calls perplexity, a lot of people know that this or that element was first introduced in Motorola, and fact that it was implemented in phone of one or other manufacturer will affect this manufacturer’s reputation negatively.
MR. What is considerable thickness for a handset? 7mm, 5mm?
It’s hard to look into far future and predict, since it’s not an impossible scenario that in future handsets will match credit card in terms of size and thickness, and this will be considered as normal. Look at SLVR L7: when this was unit was released it was considered extremely thin, and there were concerns that may be not solid enough, and inconvenient to use. But today such thickness of case has almost become standard. This means, that everything depends on used materials and construction solidness. Perhaps a future-phone will be very thin, but nobody will be worried about its possible breakage, this handset will have flexible case.
MR. Will we see a successor to rotator form-factor?
Unfortunately due to company’s policy I cannot answer this question precisely. Recently we had stopped mentioning details of our products that had not been officially presented yet so that our competitors would not have the chance to copy technical solutions that we’re using. However, Motorola was the one who created this form-factor, and it’s certain that we will use our own developments in future products.
MR. How much design is prevailed by functions? Please tells us how designing process of a new model runs? First you put a certain set of features and start assembling of all construction, or you create a phone starting from design?
Process of creating a new model includes both ways that you had mentioned. You have to consider factors that are related to emotional and rational, maintain their balance. In case you make a very pretty phone, but it will not have sufficient functionality results will turn into a loss. Same goes for a situation with functionally rich phone, which lacks visual component. This means that in every phone of ours we are trying to tie up all factors and transitions as one during all development life-cycle. That’s where dilemma “what was first egg or chicken” arises, we have to tie up efforts of designers and technicians.
MR. Where from do you get different kinds of plastic and materials on the whole that are used for manufacturing handsets – is this result of your own laboratory or search elsewhere?
Once again we blend together both methods. A special group is constantly testing and developing new materials that can be used in phone’s construction. Main target of course is done on finding materials for case, here we have broadest field for experiments. We also focus big attention on “outer world” – all materials used in manufacturing of something, not only handsets. In case someone has interesting material at his disposal or custom producing possibilities this always draws our interest. A situation with RAZR’s keypad can be used as example, we were unable to get what we wanted from contractors for a long while. In the end we decided to use services of rather unknown manufacturer of inexpensive wristwatch from South Korea!
MR. Will we see models with retro-design?
Our company is looking into future with confidence and we’re oriented only on that. That’s why it’s very unlikely that part of our inspiration will be acquired from the past. Cellular phones became massive product not so long ago at all, so that truly classical models would appear, and modern redesign of which could have been truly interesting. In case we talk about limited editions, than all I can recall is our small experiment in South Korea, where our first clamshell phone “StarTac” gained cult status, and after few years after its release it became used as trendy accessory. We decided to go towards feedback from our users and released additional lot with updated specifications. But this of course is exception of rules, not some sort of tendency.
MR. For how long company is planning to continue developing and using RAZR’s design? What other delicacies and innovations are planned as part of design developments?
What’s bad about RAZR? Even against a background of ubiquity of ideas usage that were part of initial phone’s design we are not considering that it had exhausted its potentialities by any means. In my opinion it’s RAZR that can aspire to be a truly classical phone, and a classic never gets old. As for delicacies and what is usually called «the next big thing», – who knows what will be next?
Published - 22 June 2006
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