Imagining the new aesthetic

February 2017

Steven Ellis


Being picture makers, we were thrilled to produce a short-film series for a collaboration between Chinese smartphone maker Huawei and prestigious fashion and design college Central Saint Martin’s (UAL).

They had tasked sixty students to invent accessories for Huawei’s new model, the P10, as part of a competition to inspire the next generation of designers. And we’re not talking about hand-stitched phone cases or stylish selfie-sticks (though I don’t think those things could ever be stylish).

Their brief was to “imagine the new aesthetic”. In other words, to seamlessly blend fashion and technology to enhance how people experience their everyday worlds. Ours was to put it into film. Not just the final products, but those fleeting, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments of genius and flashes of creativity during the student workshops.

As you’d expect from UAL students, the results were as thought-provoking as they were diverse. I’ve seldom seen technology so beautiful. But to give them credit, they did a lot more than make gadgets look good.

Of the 15 designs submitted, the three winners were nothing short of stunning:

  • Quartz – a phone case that visually manifests the changing battery levels of a smartphone
  • Fragments – a charging dock that projects a light-show of the user’s daily activities, by collaging images pulled from social-media channels on the device
  • Spectra (my personal favourite and the overall winner) – a necklace that scans colour from the user’s surroundings and translates it into music for their own, unique soundtrack

By utilising digital technologies and deep-learning algorithms, these concepts redefine how we interact creatively with our devices. And positively, I would hasten to add, given how some people have become almost surgically attached to their phones these days.

As someone who works closely with images and sound, Spectra in particular grabbed my attention. I love how it enables the wearer to express themselves by, quite literally, tuning into what’s around them, i.e. creating music from colours that inspire them. It really pushed the envelope in interpreting “the new aesthetic” – taking it beyond the visual by stimulating multiple senses and cleverly reconnecting the user with their real-world environment. Just brilliant.

The winning designs were prototyped and unveiled at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February – for their exceptional interpretations and unique user experiences. Exciting stuff for these young, digitally savvy creatives. And well deserved too. I don’t think I’ll look at a mobile phone the same way again.

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