LG GD900 Crystal Design Sketch
In the secretive world of consumer electronics design, there has been a movement towards “simplicity” for some years now. From plain, white laptops to flat panel TVs that have no visible buttons, this trend shows no sign of slowing down. However, the concept of using transparency to convey a sense of ultimate simplicity -- or “nothingness” -- has been quite elusive. That is, until some clever designers at LG got involved.
LG Electronics recently unveiled the world's first handset with a transparent slide keypad at the Mobile World Congress 2009, garnering praise, wonderment and industry acclaim - not surprisingly. The mobile device has already captured the imagination of thousands of netizens prior to its official launch in June.
Mr. Youngho Kim, Vice President of Design at LG Mobile Communication's Design Lab
One of the Designers of LG Crystal
The LG GD900 Crystal, its official name, was created by Youngho Kim and his design team. Mr. Kim is vice president of design at LG Mobile Communication's Design Lab and LG’s Corporate Design Center. Back in 2005, Mr. Kim and his team started sketching out the concept of a transparent handset. Already experienced in developing innovative touch screen phones, they applied their creativity and exacting attention to detail to a kind of device that would start a new trend in mobile design.
Thanks to LG's commitment to pushing the limits of handset design, Mr. Kim and his team were given the green light to take the LG GD900 Crystal, the world's first transparent phone, from an abstract idea and transform it into a real product.
Q: Tell us about the experience of creating the LG GD900 Crystal. How did you come up with an idea of transparent phone?
Kim: We started toying with the idea in 2005 and later the concept won the Presidential Design Award at the Korea Industrial Design Exhibition in 2006. At the lab, we are always examining new designs and always on the lookout for something that would stand out from the rest. Ironically, we created a ”stand-out" phone by making it transparent!
Transparency is one motif that many designers around the world have experimented with at one time or another. It’s like invisibility – the holy grail for designers because we’re essentially working with something that’s almost invisible. But the challenge is also a reward because we’re not constrained by the barrier of a shell or covering. Once the opaque skin is stripped away, the interior is exposed, creating a kind of emotional connection.
Q: There are a few transparent concept products from other manufacturers. What is it that distinguishes the LG GD900 Crystal that your team has developed?
Kim: Everything else we’ve seen are prototypes at the conceptual stage whereas this handset is now just a few weeks from being in the hands of an end-user. Other transparent products have never made it this far and usually have ended up as experimental design concepts that end up in a museum or design studio.
The real challenge of creating the LG GD900 wasn’t that the transparent design had to be attractive but that the handset itself had to function no differently than any other premium mobile phone. Consumer insights, which play a big role in how we approach handset design, have shown time after time that design and style are important but unlikely to be accepted by the masses unless the functionality is all there. Even fashion-conscious customers want a good lens on their camera for those important photos and clear sound even when they’re on the subway.
Q: Did you have any difficulty developing the design of the LG GD900 Crystal?
Kim: One challenge we had to overcome is that consumers want big screens but they don't want big handsets. So on the GD900 Crystal we expanded the touch screen functionalities to the touchpad itself. We adopted an inner slide system utilizing a gapless rail support mechanism to achieve the simple look. The final challenge was making the electric circuitry invisible which was achieved with the help of a layer of touch-sensitive film. We achieved all these breakthroughs and still managed to keep the thickness to a slim 13.5 millimetres.
Q. Advances in design are often driven by the development of new materials. What new materials were used in the creation of the LG GD900 Crystal?
Kim: We've used many kinds of materials on other models that have turned out to be successful and popular with consumers who want a different look. This is easier said than done, as the right materials also have to have the right look and feel. For LG Shine, we used a full metallic body, first ever used on a mobile phone; and for LG Secret, the initial concept was a "style that lasts" and we used premium materials of tempered glass and carbon fibre. For GD900 Crystal, it's made of a highly durable tempered glass and is framed and reinforced by a band of Liquidmetal, a relatively new material that designers are looking into that is very strong and quite shock-absorbent.
Q: Tell us your outlook for transparent consumer products.
Kim: Transparency is another form of invisibility. It’s something that everyone fantasizes about but until now, that’s all it’s been. The fact that we can now make devices for daily use that are, for the lack of a better word -- “invisible” -- is significant because we are no longer constrained by a solid “barrier” in design. It’s like a window that is also an input device -- it's revolutionary. We’re excited about what the future holds in the next generation of “design transparency”.