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Redesigning the Mobile Phone: Building Electronics to Last

Every year over a billion new mobile phones are sold. What if old phones could be easily updated instead?

Last year, more than 1.6 billion mobile phones were sold worldwide. Old phones are discarded long before the end of their useful lifetimes, generating significant e-waste due to difficult repair and recycling. When we decided to enter the Design for (Your) Product Lifetime Student Challenge presented by Autodesk, Core77, and iFixit, we were told to design a product that is environmentally smarter, and that can be repaired to stand the test of time. We chose to focus on redesigning the mobile phone because the of the size of the problem. Our solution was the Smarter Phone.


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We researched the full lifecycle of mobile phones, from manufacturing, through use, repair, and recycling. In designing the Smarter Phone, we were inspired by the design of desktop computer hard drives, particularly their ease of disassembly, repair and upgrade by components. We tried to create a product that escapes the problem of rapid obsolescence, since it will be able to meet all of a user’s needs without requiring them to buy a new phone every time they want new or replacement features.

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The Smarter Phone is designed to easily unfold so you can remove the parts inside. If you want a new camera feature in your phone, you can buy a new one and put the old one into the marketplace of the Smarter Phone store online. If the screen breaks, you can replace that, and send the broken screen in to be recycled. You can also update the software through virtual support. Not only is the interior of the phone customizable, but you can also create endless exteriors combinations, playing with the colors of the housing, buttons, and structure.

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Thanks to its design by components, many more companies can be involved in the development of this product, having a more distributed economic impact. We have reduced the amount of materials, and made parts easily removable, so it can all be more easily recycled.
The Smarter Phone also promotes an awareness of responsible consumption since gets people to think about what they really need.
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Our design won second place in the student challenge, and after receiving positive feedback, we’re beginning to look for investors. We’re committed to our idea of what good design is; it has to respond to what people truly need, and move away from pointless, empty products. Industrial designers have the power to do harm, if we don’t think about the impact of a product throughout its lifecycle. But we also have the power to do good. Every product can be smarter if we think outside the box. This is a challenge that every designer should assume.

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Bernat Lozano, designer, and Rocío García, architect, met in the Master of Product Design program of the Elisava School in Barcelona. \n
Images courtesy of Bernat Lozano and Rocío García.\n
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