Microsoft Surface Phone

This was a fun personal project I completed in a couple months, throwing an hour or two at it per day that really caught traction with Microsoft and tech enthusiasts. It was the #1 trending article on WindowsCentral for a few days, creating 6000+ hits in less than four hours. My point is, there is a definite interest in a Surface Phone, but what it’s going to focus on and what it’s going to do is in the air.

I pulled a few trends and technologies that exist currently, but aren’t quite there yet in terms of mainstream-readiness to develop the unique functions of this device. In terms of design, I thought through and sketched out a lot of different ideas, but something about Microsoft’s design values of simple & pure, and the idea of distilling seemingly powerful functions of the Surface lineup into simple forms made me come up with the pureness of form for the phone. The camera bump is how I imagine, realistically, what would be required to fit such powerful tech into a device.

For the full project, check it out! Behance

What does Core77 think? I would love to get your guys’ input on anything in terms of either design, or where you think the Surface Phone will end up being, or if it won’t ever exist.

It feels very derivative, there are lots of good ideas but they’re all pulled from other products like Google Tango, Samsung Dex, etc. There are already devices with depth cameras built in for an example of form factor

As a pure sculptural/ID exercise it feels under developed, a bit like the almost pure rectangle nextbit Robin phone ( but without some of the playful elements. It feels sharp and cold in an era where most manufacturers are moving towards rounding everything (the UI, the screen, the phone itself).

Details like the cover which just comes off as a pure white brick without material…rather than seeming soft and protective it just comes off as a brittle block of plastic, the design aesthetic doesn’t seem to match it’s function (compared to most smart covers which are soft, felt, padded, etc). Theres also no indication of how the kickstand mechanism would work. Most phone/tablet cases that use that type of folding feature use the case itself to act as the kickstand, since the hinge needs to be curved to open.

Your presentation is well done, and all this tech is basically feasible today. But you come at it from an approach of “Combine all this tech into a singular product” and it seems to take away from who the ideal user of this phone might be. Just for the uber designer/engineering professional? Your grandma? The instagram trendsetter?

The mobile hardware space is tough, we’re at a point where the technology has probably peaked and we’re sitting waiting for the next technology inflection point to really open up new opportunities.

Kudos: nice job telling the story. Clean presentation. I like how you made it fit with the rest of the MS product ecosystem.

Critique… take with a grain of salt:

  1. The corners look like they’re gonna wear through my jeans pockets real quick.

  2. Why wasn’t the form inspired by existing Surface products, to fit in with the brand language?

  3. I’m confused why you say “leave the mouse at home” when the image shows someone working at a desktop computer. Aren’t you just replacing the mouse altogether? I’m skeptical on desirability of this feature.

  4. The Hololens glasses are clearly photoshopped onto that girl. You at least need some sort of shadow on the girl below the glasses. And the lighting on the glasses doesn’t agree with the rest of the image. Should be an easy fix.

I really appreciate your comments and can see where you are coming from, seeing it as a derivative product where I almost went feature shopping. That wasn’t my intention at all with this project, but now that you mention it I can see it. Where do you think I can improve in this regard? Aren’t most smartphones basically the same, so how much do the designers really design now that they are so well established with their functions and basic form factor? My design intent was to create a tool that wasn’t made for mainstream appeal, but one that designers, creatives, and engineers could really use to aid in their work, and as an assist to the HoloLens to create cool experiences for education. Almost a glimpse into the not-so-far future for those folks.

  1. I’ve gotten a lot of flack for those corners. I’ve learned my lesson. :laughing:

  2. It definitely was, but also wanted to evolve what the future surface lineup may become.

  3. I think it could be a pretty powerful feature when needed; a mouse will be better for a lot of things.

  4. Will do when I get some time.

Thanks for your responses! Definitely appreciate the critiques.

The project is well presented, but I’ve hesitated to weigh in because I feel like it doesn’t push any boundaries. Before you read any of this, please know that I respect the amount of work you did here. The quality of execution is very high. What I’m going to be critiquing here digs down a layer below the execution, below the features, and in some cases below the core idea to why would Microsoft make this and why would it be successful as a tool for an average citizen.

Presentation: feels very Apple. Is that what the Microsoft brand is? I think the brand deserves a unique POV, and with this level of execution, that core POV should inform everything down to the visual communication strategy. Don’t think of it as style, think of it as a way of further communicating the core idea.

IxD: In terms of interactions, it is a nice collection of pre-existing thoughts wrapped up into one device, but I can’t help but think “what else”. Is this really pushing the boundaries of what the mobile device can do for the average citizen? All that advanced tech and we are seeing current windows mobile tiles? I think the ecosystem of a user’s devices and the the peer to peer ecosystem of the many could be pushed a bit more.

Industrial Design: It is nice, well executed, but expected. It feels a bit like an iPhone that got pulled out of the CNC before it started machining the radii. Is this honestly better than some of the Nokia Lumia Windows Mobile phones? (some of the best ID in mobile phones ever and made from much more mobile appropriate materials). There is so much tech in the camera array but it feels like an engineering appendage vs a design statement. You should be doing the ID for the ecosystem at this level. Stylus, tablet, HoloLens, the whole system, in my opinion. Renders are a little low res.

OK, so if you made it this far, I know I just offered some serious, and maybe hard to read, critique. But I want to make sure that you understand that the only reason why I feel like going to this level of critique is that your execution is so good, and clearly you have done a lot of information gathering. These are things I would point out in an interview to test your responses. If you got defensive then I’d probably move on to another candidate. If you listened, and even riffed off the comments with possible solutions and iterations, I’d be interested.

To be blunt, the design of mobile devices is incredibly limited these days. The front is glass and 95% screen, the button placement has been dictated by years of legacy (and the couple of people who’ve tried distinct and new things like buttons on the back have usually eaten dirt because of it). The sides are only a couple MM thin so you’re very limited.

Samsung’s main innovation was actually getting the screen to take on some new shape, which leads to an interesting design and improves the feeling in the hand, but has limited novelty outside of that.

It’s a very stagnant industry because of that, and it means there are simply very limited design opportunities, even for professionals.

If you purely wanted to improve this presentation, I’d consider polishing up some of the renders, add some materials for things like the case so they feel more thought out. But as an overall design exercise mobile devices are incredibly hard, don’t take it as a strike against your work.

Now redesigning the Hololens, THAT would be a great design exercise. :smiley:

I disagree Mike. The entire back of the product is a blank canvas and no one is taking advantage of it for anything but some antenna breaks and a camera plopped on. Having seen he guys if these things they are very densely packed, as you would expect, but there is some discreet room for relieve around the chipset and the cameras, not to mention he graphical opportunities between materials and finishes. So the front is all screen. It doesn’t mean the construction hast to be a strict layer cake. Break away from what you have seen and push the boundaries. That is what a concept project is for. Heck, even carrying the radii front to back and top to bottom would be doing something, and would have a user benefit of orientatating the device automatically by touch.

[ Deleted ]

Thank you so much for the honest critique, especially in terms of IxD and Industrial Design. I can see what you mean about pushing boundaries and really trying to create a statement. It’s a concept project, after all. My goal for this project was to remain grounded and create an understatedly clever product that people would think of as cool & seemingly viable. But you know what? I’m going to take your advice and really push boundaries for my next concept presentation me (and a team now!) are working on. I really appreciate your last paragraph. I had a bad habit in school of being defensive in critiques, and sometimes I still feel defensive. I’m so passionate about my work and love design. I’ve really lost the ego since graduation and really working to learn from others because being passionate and having an overly-inflated ego shouldn’t co-exist.

And I agree, Nokia’s Lumia 920 is one of my favorite smartphone designs and ahead of it’s time. Really reminded me of a classic Sony product, minimal yet with so much character.

Thanks, may I ask what renders you particularly found lacking and what I can do to improve them? I’ve really grown an enjoyment in CADing up and rendering products, for my next project I want to take my rendering skills to the next level.

And yes, the HoloLens really needs a solid design if it is to enter the mainstream market. It’s serving it’s purpose in acting just as a development and proof-of-concept tool as of right now, though.


that Lenovo tablet really reminds me of the Vaio “Barrel” design language that was common in their products until the division was sold.

I’m not quite sure I’ve ever liked to purchase products just because they look different from the rest, in general do people feel the same as me? What are your feelings on this idea? Is novelty itself a function? Is designing products that aren’t objectively “better” good design?

I agree with all of the above feedback regarding your ID and presentation.
The purpose of the project is much larger than just creating a phone concept but rather also to carry out the MS brand and surface experience to mobile users. Stay a bit more with the story of Microsoft rather than ‘some’ other brands. The original idea of Surface was to create novel and multi-user touchscreen interactions within the paradigm of natural user interfaces. If you stuck with that you would have ended up with a much more innovative concept I feel. The Surface Pro books stick with the idea of a very flat device and the ID is very distinctive, reminding a bit of the old Olivetti devices. Simple features like creating a thin outer edge even if the device is thick creates a much thinner appearance, something home video player device designers already faced decades ago. Your current concept I don’t think fits the project and I would like to see much more focus on interaction, focusing on a large touchscreen. Then you can consider doing something innovative, like adding a removable physical item that you can use to either interact with the screen or for NFC applications, in line with the tangible interaction paradigm although it can easily feel too much belonging to Nokia’s design thinking. Keep exploring. For concept presentation purposes, you can especially dive deeper into rendering more realistic materials, for the rest it works.

Thank you so much for the solid critique. I will take what you said and come back even stronger for my next concept design.

May I ask how to create more realistic renderings of materials in Keyshot? I really played around with the materials, the standard ones and some of the ones from the cloud, and played with the texture sizes… And to be honest I think they look realistic in my renderings, could you point out how they don’t look real to you and how I can improve them?

Thank you!

You’re not going to get it 100% right in Keyshot. You’ll likely need to add textures, adjust highlights/shadows, add reflections, and more in Photoshop afterward.

Just going to throw this into the mix regarding smartphone ID… this is a GPS, but still, 95% screen on the front, thin edge, blank back. This is pretty well done, in my opinion: Behance

Great example Brian.

Your renders are not bad at all. I think it’s just that maybe they can pop a little more :wink:

For sure, in order to make a Keyshot render pop, Photoshop is almost definitely necessary.
I pretty much always use a High Pass layer to give the image more defined sharpness and sometimes add reflections, glares and noise on separate layers.

Another thing to keep in mind is the lighting within Keyshot and playing with depth of field.
To me, lighting is almost more essential than the material selection and I pretty much never use the standard setups.
For example, the Startup HDRI is way too dull, imo.
This is a personal observation but I have always found it easier to render dark materials than lights ones.

I had a few minutes during lunch so I took the liberty of seeing what I could do with the render you provided.
It’s always kinda silly suggesting stuff and then not showing it :wink:

Thsi can definitally be waaaaaay improved and to get really good results, you would probably have to re-render it with different lighting and then edit a high-res version.
Also what the render should look and feel like is highly subjective but personally, maybe this is where I would try to take it… kinda.

Thanks for that, and yes, I see your point on perhaps exploring form and adding texture in photoshop. I played around with contrast and sharpness in Photoshop, but that is about it. I’m taking it to the next level for my next project.

I completely see what you are saying now. Your rendering is less contrasty and more descriptive with a lot bigger range of values. Thank you so much bepster, I really really appreciate the incite, and thank you for taking a few and working an example out.