A reaction to feature overload, the goal was to reduce the device to the essence of a phone, while enhancing the design attributes and creating a beautiful object.
The shape of the Folded Leaf takes its cue from nature. Primarily, however, the gentle fold in the body references the curvature of two familiar and successful phone typologies: the classic (if not slightly cumbersome) handset of the late 1930s and the 'clam shell' or 'flip' phone of the late 90s. These designs possess userfriendly qualities, namely a well-considered ear-to-chin angle as well as a more instinctive distance between ear speaker and microphone.
Barely two decades old, the cell phone market has experienced exponential growth as mobile communication has become central to most of our lives. As the technology continues to mature at breakneck speed, so does the pace at which new product iterations reach the market. Huge consumer demand has given rise to frightful competition between producers. As technical advances have enabled superior functionality, the tendency has been to just keep adding more and more features. Lured in by the promise of yet more options (culminating in the latest generation of 'smart phones'), it is no surprise that many of us are questioning the need and inherent complication of so many buttons, options and add-ons.
This reality was core to the design brief set by Huawei to Swedish architecture and design studio, Claesson Koivisto Rune, which was appointed by Huawei to work on a new mobile phone design in 2009. Every aspect of the phone has been designed with the user in mind. Claesson Koivisto Rune were keen to achieve a design that would offer an enhanced physical and ergonomic user experience and that would complement and support the features of the human body.
When it comes to portability, the phone's gentle fold is designed to respect the curvature of the human body - after all, the chest, hip or thigh are not flat surfaces. Therefore, the handset becomes a more natural accessory for its user - slightly rounded so that it feels natural to grip yet with some defined edges so that it doesn't slip out of the hand like soap. "Every curve, facet, angle, and proportion optimises the user experience," Eero Koivisto proudly states.
With all of these ergonomics considered, one can't ignore our obsession with miniaturisation. In our quest to make phones ever smaller, many have shrunk to a size that is too fiddly for most human hands. In contrast, the need to pack in multiple features has turned smart phones into rather uninviting and clunky communication tools. Is it fair to say that the industry has drifted in its correct engagement with the end user, in favour of meeting other performance-related expectations?
The point of balance is in the lower half of the phone, which means the weight is centred in the palm of the hand making it easier to use the buttons. The relative length of the phone allows for a better sized keypad that doesn't require miniature fingers to handle.
The underside of the phone is flat and allows the phone to sit flush on a tabletop without compromising on the structure's integrated curve. As a result, the display lifts slightly and is angled towards the user, enabling better screen visibility and reduced reflection. Furthermore, should the phone be placed face down, the angle in the body prevents the front from scratching.
The desire to reduce the thickness of the phone was only made possible by scrutinising the internal circuitry and calculating where space saving could be afforded. Due to the component parts, it became clear that there was no need to achieve a uniform thickness, so the design studio made best use of that fact by angling the top half of the phone and tapering it off to a point. This detail defines a new visual direction unlike any existing design on the market.
As is typical of Claesson Koivisto Rune, the formal characteristics of their designs are often softened with one or two subtle 'smile-inducing' interventions. In the case of the Folded Leaf, the tiny camera on the back has been shaped to mimic the human eye, playing on the fact that it is quite literally an eye on the world. "We sometimes refer to this design as the 'eye phone'," jokes Koivisto.