design (not specs) come first (Wired UK)

Katie Collins

Samsung‘s latest pair of flagship phones, the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, go on sale in the UK on 10 April. Both handsets reveal a radical overhaul in Samsung’s design strategy that sees the company ditch its premium “feel” plastic phones and turn instead to using genuinely premium materials.

Ahead of their release talked to Hong Ku Yeo from Samsung’s global design team, who headed up the design of the S6 and S6 Edge.

He was open about the learning and communication that had to take place between the design and engineering teams — but admitted that this time around, industrial design and premium materials came first. How do you go about judging when is the right time to bring an unusual phone like the Galaxy S6 Edge to the market?

Hong Ku Yeo: It was about not only performance in terms of production and design, we just wanted to really make sure the market was ready for this design. I think almost exactly a year ago we officially started this project, but we already had something in the background [for another two years] as an advance project.

So what were you doing in those first two years?

We were just experimenting because we had so much of the latest and greatest technology. We were shown that we could bend glass, that we could actually bend the screen and that we could make things out of metal and out of glass. We’ve always had those ingredients, I would say, and we just finally last year just tried to bring it together and actually cook something with those ingredients.

What’s different about the “premium” materials used over the last two releases and this one which does genuinely feel like a “premium” product?

It’s just about a different design strategy — when we started the Galaxy S6 we started from scratch — we started from zero with a really clean sheet. We really wanted to redefine what premium was and listen to what our customers were saying and what they really wanted out of our phone.

Obviously as a designer, we wanted the best materials to be represented. A lot of the material issue has to do with the performance of the phone because it’s not an art object — it’s actually a functioning object. You have to make sure all the functions are absolutely in line with our standard before we are able to actually use the materials. I think there’s a lot of moments where we were working with the engineers to make sure that the materials we selected performed functionally as well. Bringing that into a very premium package was a very, very long challenging thing, but the whole process was very necessary at this point to actually make a premium phone.

How do you ensure you strike the best balance between making using the best materials and making sure the price is right for a premium phone?

The end product is a representation of the communication between design and engineering. That was one of the very, very key driving forces. I don’t think you can have a product like this without that communication and teamwork. We had to make sure they really understood where we were coming from and we had to understand where they were coming from, and so there was a lot of backwards and forwards. It was not always a one-way deal. There was some ground that we had to hold and there was some ground that they had to hold, but in the end I think because the project was very important for all of us to make sure that we have the most beautiful and the best performing phone, we really shared the same vision

Was it necessary for there to be some education internally about the meaning of premium as designers see it?

It is and that’s one of the things that came out of the first few meetings where we had everyone  in the same room and we said, how do we define that? How do we learn from our past and go beyond that and create something really really meaningful? And so that was, again, it was a learning process and I think this time around everyone got together and really stuck by it.

There have been some sacrifices made in — waterproofing, for example. Did making a premium phone involve compromising on these aspects?

It was part of our design strategy, obviously. We wanted the slickest and most premium phone in the slimmest package and so those were design decisions that we had to make and we just wanted to make sure that we executed to our design philosophy and part of that was that sacrifice. 

I don’t think it really is a sacrifice — we had to be convinced first because we’re users as well of the phone.

Would this level of industrial design not have been possible if you’d retained features from previous Samsung flagship phones, such as keeping a removable battery?

I think the result of the Galaxy S6 really is the optimum of our design philosophy. I think different projects have different types of requirements and for this, this was the optimum and this was the perfect result of it.

You seem very confident in the S6 Edge, so why the need for two different versions of the flagship phone?

When we did our research we do a lot of market research, and we found out that there were a lot of people who want the latest and greatest technology — the cutting edge, the early adopters. But at the same time we had customers where they wanted the most durable, reliable phone. At one point we did something in the middle, but we just didn’t feel comfortable compromising either end, so we decided to go two different directions and actually offer our customers an option.

Ultimately the customer benefits from it because they have a choice between a very solid-looking, very durable, very reliable phone and a very edgy, very high-tech look and feel to it.

Should a high-end customer have to choose between those two aspects?

A lot of the customers, they’re very specific in their needs — if they want something advanced they’ll take the Edge and people who are more traditional and want a solid, durable phone, they’ll go to the normal S6. It’s about offering our customers options.

Is there a reason why the S6 Edge has slightly less functionality than the Note Edge?

The Note actually has a different design philosophy. You’re adding a screen onto it, whereas the S6 has a different design philosophy where we’re just slightly curving the edges to give a new experience. We played around with a lot of different curvatures to make sure that it doesn’t distort, because that was one of the biggest concerns. We wanted to make sure it feels comfortable in your hand and you could do everything with one finger so that was a result of that research and design philosophy.

Is it possible that more features could be brought to the S6 Edge in future?

The SDK is open to users to create apps for it, so if they feel the need for it they can create and use it in a different way. We did carry a few functions form the Note Edge,  but it was really about the new screen experience

When designing the S6 Edge, were you let off the reins in ways you weren’t before?

They said to design our dream phone and it’s not every day you get that opportunity.

We actually had absolute freedom to design anything we wanted and because we started with zero we had a clean sheet to start off from and so again it’s not something that only at a design phase. Anyone can design a beautiful-looking phone, but we had to make sure that it could actually make it into production and so we brought in the engineers at quite an early stage than [we did with] previous phones because they wanted to make sure it was actually producible and [could] actually perform well.

Would it be fair to say that the design team had a greater deal of influence in this process of making this phone than previous Samsung flagships?

Definitely. It’s very hard to quantify but everyone I think realises that design plays a far more important role into the mobile phone than it did before. Before it was about specs, it was about making the thinnest and the best performing in terms of the specs itself, but it’s becoming more and more of an emotional product and that’s something that only design can put in. And so I think they recognised the importance of design more than ever and they actually supported us quite a bit this time around.

Didn’t the rest of market move towards this kind of industrial design several years ago?

I think compared to previous phones it was again a different approach and a different philosophy for them than on the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S5. I think for the Galaxy S6 this time around it was about the design and the emotional attachment people will have to it. I think obviously our main focus right now is the Galaxy S6, so it would be wrong for me to comment on whether previous phones had different design influences, but no, the Galaxy S6 was definitely one of those projects where design was very important from the get go.

You say that this is your “perfect dream phone”, but what about the protruding camera lens on the back?

Everyone makes a lot of comment on the camera itself, but we knew how important the camera is and how important the camera function. Even I primarily use my phone as the camera. As a designer I obviously wanted something really sleek and obviously flush, but if that meant that compromises the camera quality, even as a designer I would want the camera to protrude and make sure that I have the best camera on the market.

You’ve come from automotive background — have supercars influenced the design of the S6 Edge?

Supercars and the mobile phone are probably the only two objects in the world where it’s just an emotional design. It’s more than what functionality offers and when our customers buy it it’s beyond what the functionality is.

We wanted to be able to make sure that the customers are excited when they see the phone and so a lot of the aesthetics are influenced by that energy I think. When you a beautiful car its the same way you feel when you see a beautiful phone and something that you really want to buy and have and really represents who you are. Those elements are common throughout a supercar or a mobile phone I think that’s the background I can bring into the design studio from Maclaren.

What other things influenced the Galaxy S6 design philosophy?

The design offices in Europe and all over the world give us a lot of research on trends and the latest technology, and we also go out and see the world for ourselves during our inspiration trips. It’s just a lot of different things that we saw, but there are no objects or things that we looked at and said, ooh that’s a nice looking thing to transfer into the Galaxy S6. It’s more of a philosophical, more of a conceptual thing.

I think that devices are becoming so cold and so industrial, we wanted to create that really warm device with a lot of character and a lot of depth to it, and that was a driving force.

For more on Samsung’s latest flagship phones, be sure to read our reviews of the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge.

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10 April 2015 | 9:22 am – Source:


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