Ring Ring…. UX’s Call for Simplicity

Over the past couple of months the London Labs staff have worked side by side our intern Sarah Hughes. Currently studying Global Communications and Film Studies in Paris, Sarah is particularly interested in  business solutions that actually meet the real needs of the end user, and getting to the essence of what people find compelling and delightful.

During her time at the Labs, we challenged her to ditch her smartphone and use a Punkt phone. You can read her thoughts on this below.

Sarah chatting with a colleague at our London studios

Last week, I decided to sacrifice my heart and soul to a ‘digital detox’. This meant that for one whole week, I was cut-off and left with no WhatsApp, no Siri, no mobile-internet, no smartphone. Instead, I was faced with the challenge of using Punkt’s MP 01 phone (AKA a millennial’s nightmare).

First thoughts:

Going against the digital market’s current appetite for increasingly more complicated devices, Jasper Morrison, the company’s forward-thinking director of design, aimed to engineer a phone that would appease our notification-crazed lives. The lightweight device features large round monochromatic buttons, a dot textured back panel, and boasts a 500-hour standby battery life. Punkt’s founder and CEO, Petter Neby, highlights the phone’s purpose as being an adjunct device; it should work in relationship to smartphones, helping users minimize unnecessary distractions and “rediscover the simple things”.

Punkt phone with coffee and notepad

Despite my longing for living a minimalist lifestyle, and the occasional impulse to chuck my email-ridden device straight into the River Thames, it would be an unequivocal lie to say that I am not a slave to my iPhone. I reach for it first thing in the morning, I pack its charger with me everywhere I go – it constantly nags for my attention, and I constantly attend to it. With the prediction that people are to spend over five years of their lives staring at their phone screen, it has become ever-more necessary to find an equal balance, both digitally and mentally. So, we decided to put this ‘smart dumbphone’ to the test, to venture into the unknown, wireless land, and to see if the grass is truly greener on the other side.

Living with it:

During the first day of the challenge, I felt I was undergoing some sort of phantom limb syndrome. It was as if an extension of my right thumb had suddenly gone missing, and I soon began to feel the paralyzing reality of my constrained limbs, unable to reach into the virtual realm of the World Wide Web. Gone were the days of mindless engagement with Maps, Uber, and even the trusty built-in calculator app. I truly was left to my own devices (no pun intended).

Punkt phone

Soon after re-familiarizing myself with predictive texting and setting up a manual voicemail code, things began to click. The phone’s GSM network made me contactable exclusively via SMS and voice calls. I expected so little from it, and it expected so little from me. And I think that’s what worked most about the phone. Its conscious pursuit in politely requesting my attention felt highly respectable and like a breath of fresh air in contrast to the disruptive nature of conventional smartphones. As the week progressed, my desire to compulsively check its screen every ten seconds dwindled and I was happily undergoing a serious case of JOMO: Joy Of Missing Out. For once, it felt liberating to know I was a bit helpless. Even though previous pleasures turned into exhausting marathons, like getting from point A to B, rising to the challenge of prior planning and memorization was surprisingly rewarding (and who knew asking strangers for directions could be so helpful?).

Design and user experience are the focus for the new phone. Its stripped-down aesthetic is impressively intuitive, including shortcut buttons to messaging and contacts, a 2” LCD display (with a resistant Gorilla glass screen), crisp audio with noise-cancellation, and long-lasting camera paint.The only experiential drawback is the phone’s musicless-ness, but that perhaps points more towards a problem with my own intolerance for silence than it does to a fault in the phone’s functionality.

Close up of the punkt phone

Future Implications:

It is no secret that we have become micromanaged by the overwhelming force of technology – it not only permeates our family lives, but it also interferes with our productivity and creativity at work. As smartphones become more and more pervasive, the idea of ‘digitally detoxing’ sounds increasingly attractive. France has already taken the initiative to break the “electronic leash” and establishing laws that give people the right to neglect emails on non-work hours. However, not everyone is quite as prepared to flip the switch. In fact, 2017 might be the final year before Europe discontinues its support for MSG networks. If so, this could be a large danger for Punkt’s current business plan.

Nevertheless, this stirring backlash against technology may be our first glimpse of hope in addressing a work-life balance. Although mainstream media may equate “switching off” with reverting back to the Stone Age, limiting screen time can be surprisingly empowering. But don’t take what we say for gospel. Try it out yourself, take a deep breath, and reflect on the here and now – you’ll have plenty of time to focus.

Team Co-ordinator

Sutherland Labs
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