HTC launched the new HTC One (M8) to great fanfare in central London yesterday, its new DotView case stealing much of the show. Core77 UK correspondent Sam Dunne caught up with VP of Design Scott Croyle to talk industrial design on the front-line.
With the keynotes out of the way and a restless swarm of tech bloggers let loose on banks of demo handsets, we were plucked from the fray and ushered down a bright white corridor of pre-fab meeting rooms. A quick handshake and a warm smile, Scott takes a seat at a table strewn with a spectrum of handsets, apologizing for the smell of fresh paint. I mention the local joke that the smell follows the Queen around. He lifts his gaze and grins quizzically.
HTC's VP of Design makes no attempt to hide his relief at another launch event done and dusted. "Selling," Croyle tells me, "is a huge part of my job, of the designer's job, both externally and internally... You gotta engage the business with stories to drive home innovations that are actually meaningful to people... even our engineers are selling their new stuff with fun little consumer stories now..." And then, of course, it's showtime: "Giving the consumer the stories behind the design helps them engage with our work emotionally." Getting up on stage, Scott admits, doesn't come naturally, "but it's so important for us as designers to put ourselves and our ideas out there... we've got to be confident and resilient if we want to be heard."
As a leader within a massive organization, Scott eloquently elaborates on the ongoing battle of championing meaning in product development: "There's a fire hose of information and stuff coming at you from all directions all the time... the only thing you can do is to filter it. With experience, designers develop what I call an informed intuition. You don't need to know everything before you act. You do have to know when to trust your gut. These days, I can look at the title and summary of a report and know whether I should dig for more detail. It comes with practice." With a wince of self-awareness, Scott speaks of the language he has armed himself with for fighting feature creep and mediocrity. "I don't let anyone talk about differentiation, it's not about that, it's got to be better-entiated. I'm always talking about meaningful innovation... innovation by itself just doesn't cut it."
On the surface, the new M8 handset represents only a minor evolution of the HTC One—some critics may question whether this will be enough to win over a larger audience without the marketing budgets available to their competitors. It's perhaps for this reason that the impatient technorati began to shuffle excitedly in their seats as Scott revealed the novel 'DotView' cases. "The reality is that most people put a case on their phones," Scott explains. "We had to push ourselves to make this meaningful. Yes, we could have easily put a window in there, but is that what we all really want?" Although unintellegent in itself, the simple hole-lined rubber case holds a small magnet that triggers 'DotView' when the cover is closed. The screen shine through the holes, transforming the case into a pleasingly rudimentary interface for simple interaction—alerting you to incoming calls and messages or, given a double-tap, displaying the time. Scott points to the information overload of modern day life as inspiration for this stripped down experience. "We've got so much information coming at us all the time. It's important to turn off from that sometimes. You don't always want the whole story... I never really use cases but this is a case that makes you want it, its not just about protection." In short, the phone case just got meaningful.
Perhaps understandably, disconnecting from the world of technology is of real importance to Scott—he tells me he's catching a flight straight after our interview to unwind with a week of snowboarding. "It's so important for us to disconnect. Designers, especially young designers, need to learn to turn off and find inspiration in the world around them." Pressed on how to achieve this, he continues: "Good designers are open to inspiration, open to being inspired... I'm a natural cynic, I think a lot of designers are. Optimism is a muscle we've got to flex."
As our brief chat neared its end, we reflected on the shifting demands on the designer's skillsets. "It's a lot about communication, but importantly communication on-the-fly. You don't have to be the best sketcher and you can't rely on your computer. You just have to be able to interpret peoples perspectives and help them see how things could be. If you've got that one chance to pitch to the board and they don't buy your vision first time, you've got to get a marker out and talk it through. That's how you steer the design."
As Scott is hustled out the door, taxi awaiting, we wrap up our conversation debating the merits of collaboration versus design vision. His opinion is clear and a refreshing call to action: "Designers are contrarian, we have to have a provocative vision. It's so important for young designers to work in consultancy for a while"—Scott was Principal at San Francisco based One&Co before it was acquired by HTC—"it sharpens your voice, gives you that breadth of experience and gives you that contrarian, provocateur edge.
"If you're endlessly curious, you can debunk a lot of the naysayers... You gotta be self-aware and aware of the world around you. Inform your intuition. Learn to trust your gut."
Sam Dunne is a designer, strategist and writer based in London. Sam is founder of design strategy agency Cohere and Contributing Editor at Core77—reporting broadly on design, technology, food and object culture.