THE LIGHT PHONE: JOE HOLLIER
WNW Member #3358 Joe Hollier joined the Google "30 Weeks” Incubator in September, and quickly realized the last thing the world needs is another app. He's been working with a team of engineers and designers, and is excited to share the Light Phone, which was unveiled on Kickstarter last week. (Congrats are in order, as Joe and co-founder Kaiwei Tang already surpassed their goal!) It's interesting that Joe and Kaiwei promote the Light Phone as a phone "designed to be used as little as possible." Talk about an undersell. So we asked Joe to share his thoughts on the importance of products like The Light Phone, which serve both a technological and anti-technological function. In response, Joe summed up the very essence of the Light Phone in an honest and insightful way: "It’s not about disconnecting forever and stepping back to the past, it’s just a break, a balance. It’s about disconnecting almost as completely as possible (knowing you have a phone still in an emergency) and being able to live in the moment for a little while." After reading the interview below, head over to the Light Phone Tumblr and Kickstarter. They both offer wonder-filled details and images that capture the inspiration and design process of this exciting new product.
Tell us a bit about your process of coming up with this concept.
The first catalyst was joining the 30 Weeks incubator, which in its nature meant stopping all of our jobs and trying to start something new. The program immersed me for the first time in the tech world. We were seeing all these things people were building like apps and smart watches and they were all claiming to try to “give you your time back, give you your life back” but they just were so off! We kept thinking, "what about our train of thought or focus?" We realized that the last thing the world needed was another app and we set off to build products that helped people live in the moment. That’s when we started building the Light Phone. We think there needs to be a balance our connectedness.
The beauty of the Light Phone is its simplicity. Did you have an idea of how it would look and feel from the start or did you go through several designs and sizes?
At first we began looking at a lot of calculators for inspiration, but the final design came about through a happy accident. We pretty quickly came to the form factor of a credit card/ I.D. because we wanted it to fit as invisibly as possible into people's lives and these things were what everyone always had on them, so that made sense to us. We started taping credit cards together and playing with the form. One day shortly after I stumbled by Canal Plastics and was like oh, I should go see if they can cut me a credit card out of a piece of plastic, and we got a few white plastic “prototypes”. It was funny, we totally fell in love with these blank pieces of plastic and that became the basis for the design, a blank piece of plastic. I shot a photo of it and photoshopped a sketch for an interface, added some outer glow and was completely surprised with how real it looked. It also made sense conceptually because the phone is supposed to be used as little as possible, so it made sense that it would be blank when it’s off. There was no menu, and it felt special, which was one of our goals, to make using this over a smart phone as special as possible.
What have been the biggest challenges so far in making this a reality?
I was fortunate that I met Kaiwei, because that would have been my biggest challenge. Kaiwei my co-founder comes from a super impressive background and has been building phones for 10 years. However as a team we’ve struggled with our limited resources (money, money, money) to build the proper prototypes. Ultimately we realized we needed to launch a Kickstarter to actually bring the phone to life. I think more generally, the biggest challenge for the phone will be getting people to try it. We are convinced (and have done testing that backs our hypothesis) that people will seriously enjoy these breaks, but it is such a strange idea that I hope people are willing to try it. There are going to be lots of manufacturing challenges especially considering we are such a small team compared to corporate beasts that make all other phones. Although we are making a simple phone, there are still some design hurdles to get over too, which is exciting and scary.
You describe the Light Phone as a phone "designed to be used as little as possible." What are your thoughts on the importance of products like The Light Phone, which serves both a technological and anti-technological function?
We think balance is essential in everything, especially technology and connectedness. Something interesting that happens when we’ve been testing these “light” trips with users is that when you come back to your smart phone after having spent the day away from it, you really appreciate the notifications that you come back to. It’s different than if you are just metabolizing them the second they arrive throughout the day. I think that says a lot about Light: it’s not about disconnecting forever and stepping back to the past, it’s just a break, a balance. It’s about disconnecting almost as completely as possible (knowing you have a phone still in an emergency) and being able to live in the moment for a little while. Whether that is as simple as a lunch break without email or a full-on camping trip excursion, we want to encourage the idea that balance is healthy and living in the moment will make us happier.
Any general advice for freelancers?
One of the hypotheses of the 30 Weeks program we were both apart of, is that designers should really be at the creation table for products and companies of the future. I think when freelancing, it is easy to get stuck in the sort of service side of design, executing on problems for a client without having as much say in the bigger picture as we should. Design is everything, and as designers we should be thinking of how we can solve the biggest problems in a better way and not just always looking for the next client to give us a problem to solve. I think there is an insane amount of tools out there (Kickstarter in our case) that allow nobodies like Kaiwei and I to launch something like a cell phone. So I guess the advice is to stay open minded and even entrepreneurial; there has never been a better time. Dream bigger, the world has so many problems and needs designers to be actively solving them more than ever.
Anything else you'd like to add that we didn't ask?
It’s really fun to break out of your comfort zone. The Light Phone project has been one of the most engaging and satisfying projects I have ever worked on. Whether or not it comes to fruition, I’ve learned so much. Feel free to follow up. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org .