Most of us would agree that with the HTC One, HTC has raised the bar as far as a phone’s design and construction quality is concerned. The recently released M8 further refined the design making it the best looking Android phone. Someone who overlooked the design aspect of the HTC One M8 was in Dubai and I was given the opportunity to have a quick chat with Mr. Johnson Chiang, HTC’s Director for Industrial Design.
Tell us a little bit about your role in HTC and the roles you have at HTC
My role at HTC is the direct head of the design team for HTC in Taiwan. We design all the products that are to launch in the coming years, and we are also responsible for looking out for specific features of emerging markets. We also have a technical design team – our Taiwan team collaborates with our design team in San Francisco very closely. Sometimes we work on the same project, and sometimes we work on different projects.
Can you tell us some of the products that you’ve designed or helped to design at HTC?
The HTC One M8 was a design we did. I’m not sure if you know the HTC Butterfly? That was also something my team did. The HTC One S, Desire HD, and HD 2, plus the Windows Phone 4.3” display and the M8 display is also my work.
Tell us a little bit about the designing of the HTC One M8
In the beginning we drew a lot of ideas and decided what was good and what wasn’t good enough. Some of these are also measurable, like we found with the M7 and its steel design had some production efficiency problems. So we tried to see how to make things better. All these are measurable challenges. With the next generation of M7 we wanted to do something different, better, but with the same M7 design. So we had to decide how far we should go and how close we should stay with M7 design – it’s a major part of the design challenge. The M8 is much closer in design to the M7 when you hold the M7 with your finger resting on the edge, you can feel the assembly part where the phone comes together. With the M8 you can’t feel any part of the assembly, and the quality is much higher than the M7.
Why do you still have the HTC bar on the M8?
In the beginning for the mockup, we planned to have buttons there. We tried to think about how we can make our software work better, more engaging – the final decision was to move the buttons to on-screen to make it much cleaner. You review products so you critique every aspect of it, so it is expected that you ask this question, and even some of my colleagues in Taiwan have asked me the same. There is no usability problem with moving the buttons to on-screen, but I think for the future this is a topic we need to think about again.
How do you improve upon the 90% metallic design of the M8?
90% metal is good, but internally in our Taiwan team we said that we wanted 100% metal. But this was not possible – engineering in HTC were able to make some models with 100% metal, but this was not good because the product needed some ‘breathing area’, so they advised us which parts of the phone should be for antenna and components etc. We want to make every new design meaningful, so maybe in the next version we will work with different Aluminium alloys, different weight, feel, strength. It’s a very strong material with a good finish.
Who makes the decision for the colours?
It’s never engineering – we discuss with our CEO for the colours, and we invite many men and women to give their opinion and get feedback. We then choose six or seven colours together and show it to our different regions and get their opinion. We do believe each region has their own preference. In the beginning we launch a few colours – we have an internal debate about which ones go to launch, but usually it is the silver and the gold, and finally the grey. How we make this decision is to decide which color is best for each region, and almost all of the regions agree that silver, gold, and grey are the most popular metallic colors, which give a very premium look and feel. That’s a big thing for us at launch, so we start with those and then move on to other colors.
When HTC launched the M8, the gold edition was 2-3 weeks behind the silver one – what was the reason behind that?
We first launched a colour which appeals to the maximum mass – the gold one is more exclusive. So we first launch the colour that is most appealing, followed by a colour that has its own exclusivity. From a marketing point of view we’re able to run exclusive campaigns over the gold colour, we’re able to tell consumers that there’s something even more luxurious coming, so it wasn’t going to be part of the initial product launch. We wanted to give it its own space.
Do you think flexible displays are the future?
Folding displays or flexible displays are interesting but it’s not technology that leads trends, it’s the users themselves. Technology can sometimes get crazy, but a user doesn’t need that. All we think about is the user and whether they need that technology. If not, then it’s just a waste. If yes, then we can look into it more using a specific criteria. I feel strongly about continuing with current displays and folding displays is still a developing area, so I think it’s important to watch first and then decide if it’s something we want to do.
As far as design is concerned, do you have any favourites? Not just from HTC, but in general in the field of technology.
In the field of design, the one I love is Sony’s Walkman. In that timeframe the design was great, but now of course it would be considered very ‘old school’. But it changed people’s lives – thirty years ago music was only meant to be listened at home or in a studio, but Sony changed people’s minds by making music portable. It changed people’s lifestyles and changed people’s mindset, which is why I loved it so much.
What do you think a standard smartphone will look like five years from now?
Looking back five years, the industry had just begun to produce capacitive touch screens and screen sizes were small– so much has changed. Five years from now I’m not sure if displays will be made of glass anymore- maybe some kind of overhead display will be a norm. But like I said with the Sony Walkman, it will change the way people live. People are always looking at their phones when they are walking, or sitting in a restaurant – it’s crazy. Products should make our lives better, not overtake them. People think that smartwatches are new, but it’s not – they have been existing before but it’s just the technology has changed to make them better. I think it’s more about technology just making things easier for us and our lifestyle.