HTC One M8 concept
The HTC One (M8) has held its place at the top of our smartphones Top 10 despite the best efforts of the Galaxy S5 and the Sony Z2, and that's partly because its smooth metallic form makes it arguably the best designed phone we've ever held.
We sat down with HTC's Creative Director, Daniel Hundt, to find out what it takes to create a pocket masterpiece.
READ MORE: HTC One (M8) review
start with the material
HTC One M8 concept
"There are all sorts of approaches you can take when you design an object", says Hundt. "You can start by thinking about human behaviour, or the history of that kind of object, or you can start with the material, and try to let that guide the phone. Of course we work with the engineers on how we can get a curved surface on the back, and we come up with things like having a spine-like PCB (printed circuit board) so that it has this shape that shows off the material, but our approach at the beginning was to simply start with a chunk of metal and just ask ourselves what we could do with it.
"I like objects that have a design that's not forced, that make you think that's just what a phone or a chair is supposed to look like. It's a natural result of the material, without technology being forced in just for technology's sake."
Hundt is obviously taken with the idea of a phone that is, screen and camera aside, a simple piece of polished metal. The question he asks himself when designing a new phone is, he says, " not 'how can we get a bigger battery in', or 'how can we give it a larger screen', but 'how can we simplify this object?'"
READ MORE: The ultimate setup for your HTC One (M8)
choose your components wisely
Hundt says the it's the designer's job to make intelligent compromises. "You play a lot of chess between the antenna team and the acoustics team - there are 10 very, very sensitive antennae in the M8, and those need space, but great audio performance is one of our key selling features, and that only comes by using volume in the phone. So we're constantly going back and forth to give each team space in the phone without changing the form factor."
Inevitably, in this game of give-and-take, your competitors find space for a feature you don't have. "Yes, waterproofing is a useful feature", he admits, "but it comes with a size impact. It's definitely something we're looking into - the M8 is IPX3, so it's splashproof - but this time we felt like we made the right trade-offs to get the form we wanted."
It's also important to listen to your customers: "There are strong pros and cons for having microSD, but there was a lot of feedback that people wanted extra storage, so we decided to give it to them."
READ MORE: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One (M8)
the next one
Modern product designers face a frustrating reality: by the time their design is in the hands of the public, they're already months into creating the next year's model.
"That's pretty much it", Hundt agrees. "The device isn't even launched and already we're working on the next one. But we don't design a completely new phone every year, there's a heritage, a strong signature that gets carried through. You look at the 'forehead' and the 'chin', as we call it, and the lines on the back, the way we treat the camera - those are our signature elements, like the way a BMW has the kidney-shaped grilles.
And designing such a staple part of people's daily lives, says Hundt, is a great responsibility. "It's not like a watch that you look at once in a while. With a phone, the tiniest flaw interrupts people's daily life every time they use it, and it really bothers people. But if you get it right then you really get it right, and that drives us to do a better job every year."
Waterproofing aside, next year's One will have more metal - "The body of the M8 is 70% metal, but I'd like to get that closer to 100%" - and it's highly likely to pair up with some HTC wearables, which might well be made with some help from other brands. "We are working on wearables," says Hundt, "and we have some amazing companies coming to partner with us".
The Samsung Galaxy S6 in all its metal-and-glass glory