Today we all use smart phones. Hardly a news flash, I know.

You might also know that Steve Jobs’ credo was “Think Different” which also was the secret for his stunning ideas and Apple’s success.

But when I look at design history I see that the “think different” is not that new. Maybe it was not the official motto of anyone before Steve Jobs but some ingenious individuals always thought and still think outside of the box.

1931: Ericsson DHB 1001

Let us start with the phone classic. The Ericsson 1931. Even later in the era of mobile phones (the non-smart ones) Ericsson still played a role.

Back to 1931: The Ericsson Model DHB 1001 was made of Bakelite – a rather heavy plastic – and of metal. If I look at it I feel that it was not only a phone but due to its bulkiness and weight a weapon for one’s self-defence. Multi-functional as a side-effect; so to speak. At the time it bore some remarkable news.

The shape was considered elegant and modern and the success lasted for four decades. Before Model DHB 1001 phones were typically attached to a wall and the bell was an exterior device which was located at a different place in the house.

Now for the first time all the parts a phone needed were integrated: the bell, the dial, the receiver. The latter was made in a shape that assured a good sound quality. No wonder other companies copied this idea with only slight modifications.

1965: Grillo – The Next Leap

In 1965, the Italian architect Marco Zanuso and the German designer Richard Sapper brought another innovation to the market.

The model “Grillo” was made of light plastic and available in striking colours such as blue, red and green. Black and white for the “conservative” taste.

The novelty lies in the integration of all functions in a single piece.

2007: The Smart Phones

I am skipping all the various models of conventional phones and mobile versions and jump straight to the smartphone.

As already mentioned at the beginning it was Steve Jobs’ (and probably his team’s) idea to reduce the dozens of buttons other phones had to only one while all the functions could be managed by means of a touch screen. A revolution!

Soon other brands brought similar devices called smart phones on the market. The hardware looks similar, the different software types have similar functions.

From complex to simple and back?

DHB 1001 and Grillo clearly were a simplification; something people adore. Living a life is a full-time job and we all have too many important decisions to take.

The “one-button-idea” of course is also a simplification but at the same time smart phones are very complicated devices.

While the “normal” phones just had one function the “speaking” function of a smart phone is almost a side-effect. We shop, book trips, play games etc. on them and each of these functions needs a separate app.

Please do not get me wrong I also like having everything at one place and would feel strange without a smart phone. However, the regular software updates are not all that flawless and tend to destabilize the software hence the reliability of the phone.


The fact that smart phones are largely made of glass and therefore fragile plus the software issue described above make a new service necessary: customer support.

Support is a complex business that requires a lot of resources. Apple is miserable at customer support; they even requested me to make an appointments for emergencies (I tend to not scheduling problems they just appear). So they lost me as a customer. I don’t know if Apple’s competitors are that much better but if I have a problem my phone provider takes care of this and their customer service is impeccable.


To me it seems that simplicity is also a matter of definition. We can simplify to the max without making our lives easier.

In other words: There is no free lunch. Even simplicity has its price.


  1. Thank you, Brigitte, for these refreshing thoughts: Simplicity always lets me calm down a little. I rememper my first wireless phone, a Nokia (yes, it was long ago): My father gave it to me and was intrigued by the fact that in addition to the number buttons it had two buttons for navigation. Therefore it was very simple to navigate. I liked it! Simplicity is relative 🙂

    • Good morning, Sascha. I also had a Nokia and I believe they dominated the mobile market because of their software which was very easy to handle. Just our handbags were fuller. We needed an agenda, a calculator and a shopping list separately. No they are stored at the same place and endangered by updates :). Have a great day.

Comments are closed