Forget the iPhone 12 temporarily, have you seen the artwork in these phones?

In recent years, smart phones have often been criticized for lack of innovation. Although the innovation of mobile phone forms such as folding screens and under-screen cameras is eye-catching, they have not really proven themselves in the market.

Quartz deputy editor Mike Murphy believes that consumer electronic devices are now confined to the road paved by Apple, but “stifle the fun of electronic products with diverse forms and rich colors.”

In fact, before the appearance of the iPhone, some mobile phones had taken the lead in standing at the crossroads of technology and humanities with unique designs.

Beginning in 2001, Japanese telecom operator KDDI launched a project called “AU Design Project”, aiming to launch mobile phones that emphasize design aesthetics, explore more possibilities of mobile phones , and invited Naoto Fukasawa, Marc Newson, etc. A well-known designer came to participate in the design.

These designers let us see that mobile phones can also become a work of art.

What is “the most beautiful phone in history”?

The Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) is known as one of the most outstanding collections of modern art in the world. If a mobile phone is collected by it, what kind of mobile phone will it be?

Among the mobile phones designed by the AU Design Project project, 4 are listed as permanent collections by MoMA . These mobile phone designs may seem too niche today, but they also provide another possibility for the development of mobile phones.

INFOBAR: “Chocolate Bar” by Naoto Fukasawa

Naoto Fukasawa’s achievements in the field of industrial design need not be repeated. In addition to defining the design language of MUJI with Kenya Hara, he has also made designs for Apple, Nike, and Issey Miyake . The “Hiroshima chair” in Apple Park was created by Naoto Fukasawa. .

▲Hiroshima chair in Apple Park coffee shop. Picture from: “Wallpaper”

In 2001, when the Nokia 3310 was still the world’s best-selling mobile phone, Naoto Fukasawa decided to design a different mobile phone.

According to Naoto Fukasawa’s vision, this phone can interact on both sides. On the front is a conventional camera, screen, and keyboard, and on the back is a PDA-like touch screen. This is the first concept phone INFOBAR designed by Naoto Fukasawa for the AU Design Project.

The name “INFOBAR” (information bar) contains Naoto Fukasawa’s vision of the future. He believes that a mobile phone is no longer just a phone, but a composite information device that carries e-mail, Internet, and music downloads.

The slender body and large square buttons make INFOBAR look like a chocolate bar. At that time, the main concept of this phone was “a chocolate bar that displays information.”

It is worth mentioning that INFOBAR’s color-contrasting keyboard, in which the red, white and blue colors are inspired by the Japanese carp streamer.

However, the “one device with two sides” design was still too advanced at the time. When INFOBAR was mass-produced in 2003, only the keyboard side was retained, and the positioning was still a functional device.

▲ Picture from: The Verge

However, the seamless borderless keyboard of INFOBAR restores the design of the concept phone. This uniquely shaped mobile phone can be said to be a clear stream in Japan where clamshell phones have become mainstream at the time. It was soon sought after by consumers and entered the year in one fell swoop. Japan’s mobile phone sales are at the forefront.

In 2007, the second generation of INFOBAR designed by Naoto Fukasawa was also launched on the market. The body has become more rounded and looks like a bar of soap from the side. It feels better to hold, and people can’t help but step forward to play it.

Naoto Fukasawa once said that if the original INFOBAR is a piece of chocolate just opened, then INFOBAR 2 is the way the chocolate melts slowly in the mouth.

INFOBAR still implements the “Without Thought” concept of Naoto Fukasawa, transforming users’ unconscious behaviors into visible designs. In the words of Naoto Fukasawa:

Design is not what I created, it is there. All I do is to present it.

▲ Naoto Fukasawa. Picture from: Anders Norén

In an article in 2016, The Verge directly titled “INFOBAR is the most beautiful series of phones ever made” (INFOBAR is the most beautiful series of phones ever made) , stating that even after looking back at INFOBAR more than ten years later, This is still a unique and beautiful phone.

Talby: Apple’s mobile phone designed by ghosts

Another mobile phone collected by MoMA comes from Marc Newson. Readers familiar with Apple should not be unfamiliar with this name.

In 2014, Apple recruited the legendary industrial designer into the Apple design team led by Jony Ive. It is said that Marc Newson played a vital role in the design of the Apple Watch .

02 Newson

▲ Marc Newson.

As early as 2003, Marc Newson also participated in the AU Design Project and designed a mobile phone called Talby , which appeared in Xin Haicheng’s animated film “Five Centimeters Per Second”.

Talby uses a straight body with silver front and black back, which looks a bit like a TV remote control at first glance. With a thickness of 13 mm, Marc Newson said it was one of the thinnest and lightest phones on the market at the time.

Although Talby only uses an LCD screen with a resolution of 240×320 and the camera is only VGA-level, it has a special switch for scanning the QR code, and the side of the fuselage is engraved with Marc Newson’s signature.


The UI of this phone continues the simple appearance style, adopts a monochrome design and quasi-materialized icons. Such a UI is somewhat similar to the interface of the later smartphone operating system.

Brendon Smale , who is in charge of Talby UI interface design, said that at the time, Japanese mobile phone interfaces were mostly messy and complicated. His goal was to design a simple, practical interface that was consistent with the product design style. The design concept of “less is more” will be the same as the next few years. IOS is exactly the same.

Neon: an angular music phone

In 2006, when music phones were still very popular, Naoto Fukasawa also brought a uniquely designed music phone neon . This is a flip phone with sharp edges and corners, which looks like two stacked blocks.

Neon’s square shape and “cold” color scheme are full of Zen Design, a Zen aesthetic style popular in Japan. Naoto Fukasawa also brought this design concept to MUJI.

The most special feature of neon is the body shell. The back of the body is equipped with a whole LCD cold-light screen, and is equipped with 16 red LED lights to display information such as time, message notification, FM frequency, and so on. Similar to A3000.

What’s interesting is that these LED lights will form different animations on the screen every time the phone is opened and closed, and users can also download different animation styles on the Internet, which is reminiscent of the DIY desktop that has recently become popular among iOS users.

MEDIA SKIN: Feel like skin

AU Design Project’s last mobile phone MEDIA SKIN collected by MoMA comes from Toruhito Yoshioka who studied under Issey Miyake.

As our relationship with mobile phones gets closer and closer, mobile phones seem to become a new organ that grows in our hands. This is the origin of the name “Media Skin”.

Yoshioka Naruhito used a silicon particle coating commonly used in cosmetic foundations on the surface of the mobile phone, which brings a leather-like touch, making Media Skin feel like a second layer of human skin in his hand.

In addition to the 4 mobile phones collected by MoMA, there are also many unique mobile phones in the AU Design Project.

For example, Vols, which is inspired by wine bottles, is ergonomically shaped like a wine bottle, and its retractable design allows it to be easily placed in a pocket.

The cypres designed by Naho Tamura has an ice-like crystal clear shell, which can clearly see the internal mechanical structure of the mobile phone. Nowadays, some manufacturers use similar transparent exploration versions as mobile phone selling points.

The most special one is the Penck designed by Makoto Saito, which looks like a smooth pebble with a futuristic feel.

A glimpse of the era of smart phones

As the wave of smartphones hits, AU Design Project launched a new mobile phone brand in 2009 as iida . “iida” means innovation, imagination, design and art.

The INFOBAR series designed by Naoto Fukasawa has also begun to be integrated with smartphones. The INFOBAR A series is one of the masterpieces. Naoto Fukasawa designed the appearance, and the UI design was in charge of Yugo Nakamura, who was responsible for the design of the Uniqlo website.

The iida UI of INFOBAR A01 is based on the Android system, but the block-shaped interface looks more like the Metro UI of Windows Phone, and users can split multiple main screens.

When Luo Yonghao tried INFOBAR A02, his evaluation was “cool but prone to fatigue”, and he believed that “smart interactions are always sought after as soon as they come out, but soon no one will use them.”

However, Luo Yonghao also bluntly said that Hammer Technology’s mobile phone design style is deeply influenced by Naoto Fukasawa, and the original Smartisan OS is considered to “borrow” the UI design of the INFOBAR A series.

▲. Picture from: Engadget

The INFOBAR series after 2009 can also be said to be the epitome of the Japanese mobile phone industry’s exploration in the era of smartphones. After sliding right on the main screen of INFOBAR C01, a widget Home area will appear. Users can add different widgets by themselves, which is very similar to the “negative one screen” of today’s smart phone system.

However, the INFOBAR series cannot reproduce the glory of the year in the era of smart phones. In the Japanese people have a soft spot for flip phones, and the impact of mainstream flagships such as the iPhone, INFOBAR has not caused any waves.

Mobile phones can also be artworks

When a mobile phone is collected by an art museum, it will inevitably give people a sense of cross-border. After all, mobile phones have become a fast-moving consumer product today, which seems to be irrelevant to the art of art.

In fact, art is only a relatively subjective concept. As early as a century ago, people began to explore how to combine art with technology.

In 1923, Walter Gropius (Walter Gropius) delivered a speech entitled “Art and Technology: A New Unity” , which proposed a new design direction:

Art and technology are a new combination. (Art and technology – a new unity.)

Gropius was the first principal of the famous Bauhaus Academy. Bauhaus is more than just a school. It has become a design genre and an aesthetic style. According to the book “Bauhaus Ideal” Bauhaus redefines design.

Designers and architects all over the world draw inspiration from the Bauhaus example, and then resist it. In every era, Bauhaus’ ideas about human nature, social responsibility and taste will become a stimulus.

Bauhaus put forward three principles of modern design:

  • The new unity of art and technology;
  • The purpose of design is people, not products;
  • The design must follow natural and objective laws.

After Steve Jobs came into contact with Bauhaus-style products at the annual design conference held in Colorado in 1981, he began to regard the Bauhaus design philosophy as a standard.

Two years later, Jobs expressed his admiration for the Bauhaus style in a public speech, and proposed a plan to integrate with the product.

What we have to do is to make the product full of technology, and then use simple and clean packaging to make the sense of technology clear at a glance. We will put the products in small boxes to make them look pure and beautiful, just like the appliances produced by Braun.

It can be said that in a series of classic Apple products, from the hardware to the system, they all followed the Bauhaus design philosophy. Jobs once pointed to an iPhone and said: “If this is not Bauhaus, what can it be?”

Why did the iPhone 4S surprise the world when it was launched, and the design of the iPhone was also imitated by other manufacturers.

One view is that this is because Bauhaus’s design principles have all divided the principles of beauty, and the iPhone is designed in full compliance with Bauhaus’s design principles. The double-sided glass and metal frame of the iPhone 4S is a typical Bauhaus design.

In the book “i Bauhaus: The iPhone as the Embodiment of Bauhaus Ideals and Design” published this year, it introduces the relationship between the iPhone and Bauhaus in detail. Relationship.

▲ Picture from: Fast Company

Jobs inherited Gropius’ ideals and merged art and technology together, allowing Apple to stand at the “crossroads of technology and humanity.” At the iPad2 conference in 2011, Jobs said :

Only technology is not enough. This concept has been integrated into Apple’s DNA-the combination of technology and humanities and art, and the combination of humanity, creating products that meet our wishes, which is more clearly reflected in post-PC devices.

For a technology product, function is of course the core, but aesthetics cannot be ignored. As Professor Vivek Wadhwa of Duke University pointed out in an article , humanities and arts are as important as technology, and the truly great products are the combination of the two.

An excellent mobile phone is a work of art in itself.

The title map and part distribution map come from: AU Design Project

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