In September 1999, Ulrich Skrypalle was the Head of Design at Siemens, spearheading the company’s efforts to refine its products to meet differing lifestyle requirements. He was also the winner of the 1998 CeBit design prize, awarded for his work on the Siemens SL10 mobile telephone. I spoke with him following the Siemens World Premiere in London on 28th September 1999, during which he had presented his acclaimed concepts for third generation (3G) mobile telephony and computing systems. The interview is re-published here to provide background and context for my June 2009 article entitled ‘Touch, feel, inspire and sustain‘.
Do you find geography and national cultures play an important role in designing items such as mobile computers and mobile telephones?
The questions which I am always asked are: ‘Do we have to develop international design?’ or ‘Do we develop national design for a specific culture?’ or ‘Do we develop something for the Asian market, the European market or the US market?’ And I always say: ‘There is no international design, there is only national design which has the quality to work worldwide.’ Look at a BMW or a Porsche – they are the same worldwide. Or the Nokia or the Canon Ixus, worldwide they have the same design and it is accepted. You have to meet the general use of the people and make a contemporary design.
How does the design and development of these products work? What was the process behind the concept designs you showed us this evening?
It differs. With these visions that I showed you, we designers got together and talked about new concepts and new ideas. As an industrial designer, you know what technical developments are occurring, so you don’t make what I call ‘blue sky’ designs. You know about the trends towards miniaturising, and we adapt to the way it might go in four or five years time. We also develop concepts and ideas that come purely a design standpoint. We then show it to our technical colleagues and product managers and say: ‘Look, that’s the way the designer sees the world in four or five years time.’ Also, sometimes, technical developers come to us and shows us what they have and will ask us to help make a design from it. Then it goes the other way and we make a contemporary design to use these technical developments.
What is your design background?
I studied engineering and then industrial design. So I have two views and this enables me to understand the language of the technicians and the engineers – that is very helpful.
Why do you focus on mobile technology design in particular?
Mobile technology is the one of the most rapidly growing markets and it is very interesting. It is a consumer market and, as you can see, the mobile phone is used in a variety of markets. It goes to kids, it goes to supermarkets, it goes to high end users, it goes to low end users… From this standpoint it is very interesting to see which lifestyles and which market segments… You have to design to meet the target group.
What will be the key elements in mobile technology design over the next two to three years?
One key element is to segment the market, to find the lifestyles for which you will develop designs. That means analysing different cultures and making this phone suitable for this world. Meet the design needs, meet the lifestyle. The other thing is to change the material from plastic. Use ‘authentic’ materials. As I showed, metal, rubber or a material mix, so that the feeling on the hand or the touch on the skin is better. Also, for improving the ‘feel’ of the communication, we will have bigger screens, so that the pictures or graphics that we see are easy to read and understand. The icons will be easier to understand than they are now. I think, in general, the graphics and the colours will be important than they are now.
One of the key questions in mobile technology at the moment is whether we will all have a single, integrated device or whether we will use a number of small devices carried on our person. As a designer, what do you believe will happen?
The most important thing is that we develop a device that has a ‘real’ size. It is very important to design and develop a device which the people like to have. Not too big, not too small – too small is also awful, because you cannot read, you cannot handle it. The other thing is that you really have to make the devices easy to use and easy to understand. You don’t need a guide like ‘this size’, but you have to be able to understand. It also has something to do with segmentation. The younger generation, the kids, they are so computer literate, they have a different understanding of this world than older people. Maybe in the same device, I will have to develop separate user interfaces for different target groups…
We spoke earlier about some of the items you look to for design inspiration. Do you carry any particular object which you believe represents an optimum design?
Ja, I like my Lamy pen. It is very simple in design. I would not say it is modern, but it is not ‘modish’ either – it is between modern and modish. You know, there is a difference. Modern is more classic, it is contemporary, but not too fashioned. And it is a real material. It is very simple and easy to understand. That’s why I like it.
If you could leave a single design for people to use over the next five to ten years, what would it be? What do believe will be most important in using mobile technology during that period?
I think information and communication devices are developing technically very quickly. One thing is that speech recognition will come. I know it needs time to understand every language, every dialect and things like that. But if I can really speak with the device and the device is not stupid, as they are now, and they understand me, they can help me and I don’t have a problem. If they can give me pictures that are understandable, not only icons and symbols, but understandable pictures. I need to speak, I need a tool. A tool has to fulfill what I want of it. I don’t want to spend two days or a week or a month learning to understand or to use it.