Pentagram isn’t really helping Samsung by rethinking its design language

A profile of ‘How Pentagram helped Samsung rethink its design language’ by Katharine Schwab of Fast Company:

Samsung isn’t known for its UI design, but the company is now trying to change that, and boost its brand, with a signature interface style that debuted on its new S8 phone. To design it, Samsung called in the heavyweights: the New York-based design firm Pentagram

While Samsung phones typically rely on standard Android UI, the company wanted to differentiate itself with its interface for the S8 as a way of strengthening its overall brand. In comparison to the chunky, colorful design of Android, the S8’s interface is sleeker and more abstract–part of the company’s efforts to make the phone look elegant and timeless.

To satisfy this brief, Pentagram partner Eddie Opara and his team took inspiration from the phone’s widely admired industrial design. Opara’s central design concept, which he calls “Light and Line,” comes from these curved edges.

The biggest challenge for Opara and his team, who had never worked on a phone interface before? “It’s everybody in the world,” 

Samsung may be playing to its strengths here – relying on distribution and outsourcing elements of the design to other agencies but I can’t help but think this is the primary reason the user experience feels so disjointed. The front-end hardware and software itself are executed via two different approaches to design, leave alone integrating the complete package, no matter how much inspiration one draws from the other [which I may argue, should actually be working in tandem.]

Samsung’s forking of Android is also playing against the tide. I don’t know whether this is a strategic decision to keep people hooked on to their ecosystem, but their on screen navigation buttons of ‘back’ and ‘multi-tasking’ are inverted by default. That’s also an element of the user interface, which Pentagram probably had no say in. And the “chunky, colourful” design is the current aesthetic of Android. Like it or hate it, your apps will look more out of place when looking at the entire app drawer, with Google and other third-party apps encouraged to follow that direction. Design guidelines are there for a reason. Google doesn’t adhere to them in iOS either, and its apps looks totally out of sync on the iPhone.

For some reason, phones haven’t gone the same way as PCs. Android works on similar lines to Windows – it’s not about leveraging software and hardware integration; it’s about gaining scale, affordability and choice. Samsung should focus on the essentials i.e. hardware, distribution and add-on software and services that complement Android, not fight it.

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