Over a 20 year period from 1992 some 3600 different designs of mobile phones emerged.  Only a handful were outstanding industrial designs. See them all on show … here 



          1. INTRODUCTION
          2. “ANALOGUE” COLLECTION  
          4. “KOREAN” COLLECTION 
          5. “NOKIA” COLLECTION
          8. “APPLE” COLLECTION 
          9. ICONIC COLLECTION (Best of the Rest)
          10. “GSM” COLLECTION

1. Introduction

The wide adoption of GSM enabled huge global scale economies. Over the 20 years, following the launch of GSM in 1992, some 3600 different designs of mobile phones emerged.   From the outset of GSM, the mobile phones were in a race to be smaller, lighter and with longer battery life. That and price were all that mattered.

Around 1999 a number of mobile companies tried to break out of this function led design straitjacket.  A rich culture of industrial design blossomed over the period 2000-2010. Out of this burst of design innovation and creativity, the mobile phones that reached the dizzy heights of industrial design excellence or even works of art are showcased below:  

Analogue Collection – A section reflecting the preceding 15 years is a useful beginning to show just how few mobiles there were that broke free from the norm of being rectangular and black.  See Section 2 below.

Japanese Collection – Japan was a “technology island” as one of the few countries that did not adopt the GSM technology standard. It was nevertheless a “Treasure Island” of great industrial designs that sadly few people outside of Japan ever saw.


See Section 3 below.


Korean Collection –  Unlike Japan, the best contribution to mobile industrial design from Samsung have been enjoyed internationally. One of the best of the LG designs, the Lotus, was specific to a US mobile operator.


Korean Collection

See Section 4 below.

Nokia and Motorola Collections – Motorola and Nokia were not just the dominant mobile phone suppliers for a decade or more but had exceptionally talented industrial designers.   

Motorola Collection

See Section 5 below.

Nokia Collection 



See Section 6 below.

Siemens Collection – Siemens is the big surprise. For a company best known for the sort of heavy engineering where the word “beautiful” doesn’t easily spring to mind, they had an exceptionally creative industrial design team.  


See Section 7 below

Apple Collection
– When the design brief is to maximise the screen area to its limits there is not much scope left for the industrial designer. The rise of the smartphone, for which Apple has been a driving force, saw the sun setting on the golden age of mobile phone design. See section 8 below on two outstanding Apple smartphone designs and then Section 11 on “the end of the mobile telephone era”.

Iconic Collection (Best of the Rest) –  Here some of the smaller companies have made their impact. See Section 9 below.

GSM collection – This is an area where grouping a number of mobiles of the period adds an extra insight into the struggle the industrial designers had to differentiate the mobile on the basis of its design. See Section 10 below.

Super-expensive “Bling phones”

The fact of a mobile costing a fortune by gluing precious stones to it casing does not qualify it as “a great design”. Unlike the most expensive cars, none of these ultra expensive mobiles were better either functionally or technically.  A Swiss jewellery company once claimed to have produced the most expensive mobile in the world. It looked like the Sultan’s slipper, exceedingly ugly and who would ever want to hold a slipper to their ear to make a phone call? The hero mobile phones, in the league of outstanding  industrial design, were the mobiles that people aspired to own, hold and use and could afford, like the Motorola Razr, Au Talby, Siemens SL55, Nokia 8800 and  LG Lotus.  

The sections that follow now focus on the individual mobile phones under each “collection”. Enjoy!

2. Analogue Collection


Technophone EXCELL PC105T

Description:  An analogue TACS mobile from 1986

Technophone was a company set up in 1984 by Nils Martensson, a Swedish radio engineer who left Ericsson to set up on his own in 1978. Nils Martensson’s dream was to transform the large, clunky” brick” into the world’s first mobile phone to fit into the pocket. He secured a DTI R&D grant, brought as much computer technology into the mobile phone as the state of the art would allow (including soft keys) and the PC105T arrived on the market in 1986 with a price tag of £1990.

The mobile phone actually did fit into a Marks & Spenser shirt top pocket:

The first mobile phone to fit into a pocket…notwithstanding the antenna

It’s great industrial design achievement was to have changed  the form factor of mobile phones. Technophone was one of the first to realise that “thinness” was the key for an item that is to be body worn. It introduced colour. It trail blazed soft keys. The areas of blue at the top and bottom made it distinctive. Rather surprisingly the next iteration of the product (the M2) reverted to black.

Swatch Mobile TCE122

Description:   Analogue TACS mobile from 1993

Swatch was one of the first companies to bring both “a brand” and “colour” to the mobile phone. The design created by the Italian designer Fabrizio Galli for Swatch and launched in the UK and Italian analogue TACS markets in 1993. At the time Fabrizio Galli was studying under Mario Bellini the world-renowned Milan architect and designer.

A design first is the curved back making it more comfortable to clutch in the hand than some of its contemporary “bricks”. The see-through plastic allowed a view of the electronic innards revealing perhaps the watch makers influence, although less fascinating than the moving parts of a watch. The mobile electronic innards were Nokia but the outside was pure Swatch – bold and colourful

The mobile sold better in Italy than the UK but by1993 GSM mobiles were in the ascendancy – so its sales life-span was relatively brief.

Sony CM-R333

Description:  An analogue TACS mobile from 1992 (popularly known as the Mars bar phone)

The Sony “Mars bar” entered the market in the very year the first GSM hand portable appeared (the Motorola 3200 “brick”). The Sony mobile was cheaper, smaller, lighter, the battery lasted longer and it was the “must have” phone of the time. It showed just what a huge mountain the GSM technology mobile phone had to climb in 1992. 

The Sony CM-333 was designed to sit really comfortably in the palm of the hand. The top was shaped to snugly fit the ear. Its neatest feature is how the ear piece shaped top slid up and down  in a nice clicking action to answer or terminate a phone call.

Its shape attracted the name of the Mars Bar phone.   

Motorola StarTac 8500

The Motorola StarTac must get a mention under the Analogue Collection. It is showcased later under the Motorola Collection”.

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For such an industrially advanced country, the Japanese mobile phone market was extraordinarily insular. Much of the technology found its way into the global supply chains but some quite exceptional designs were never seen outside of Japan.

Au Talby

Description: Candy bar CDMA mobile phone from 2004

The Japanese network operator KDDI set out to create a reputation for offering outstanding designs of mobile phones. The “Talby” was the third in a series in this mobile design project in which some of the world’s leading designers were invited to create something special.


The Talby – A huge success in Japan

The designer was Australian born Marc Newson and the phone was manufactured by Sanyo. The genius of the design was its combination of almost perfect form factor for a phone, futuristic look from its use of brushed aluminium, pop colours for the keys and very comfortable to hold in the hand. One of the mysteries of globalisation is why the design was never licensed outside of Japan, where it almost certainly would have found a market.

Au Infobar

Candy bar CDMA mobile phone from 2003

The “Infobar” is the creative work of Naoto Fukasawa, one of the most famous and influential industrial designers in Japan. Fukasawa’s concept was to breakaway from the homogeneous clamshell mobiles of the period and create a distinctive design unlike any other. The form factor sizes of Infobar has a particular elegance that makes it  nice to handle.

Infobar I

It features an angular design where the multicolored buttons run edge-to-edge and interlocked like a jigsaw puzzle. And although it was available in a range of colours, the red, white, and blue “Nishikigoi” scheme (named after a type of Japanese carp) became an instant classic and one most closely associated with this iconic brand. The name “Infobar” was chosen to reflect the coming future when the mobile would become an important information device and not just a telephone.

Just how iconic the design has been in Japan is  demonstrated by a spin off “transformer” toy that resulted from a collaboration between KDDI and Takara.



Au Infobar II

A candy bar mobile on CDMA2000 from 2007.

A concept model was displayed in the KDDI design studio in October 2006 with a theme of “candy that melts in your mouth”.

                                             Infobar 2

KDDI announced its release in November 2007. The Infobar 2’s design  extends the display right against the edge-to-edge keys of its processor, then smooths both halves out to sit flush with the phone’s  curved edges. Fukasawa describes the design as “shaped like a square candy that has melted in your mouth and has just started to take on a roundness.”.  The curve is intended to make it more comfortable in the hand. It is larger to allow a bigger screen without compromising on a generous size of the keys. On the reverse of the mobile are the stereo speaker outlets providing a better acoustic coupling when held close to the ear for telephone calls.

Au InfoBar XV

Description: 4G Smartphone from 2018

The Au InfoBar XV is an anniversary phone, celebrating a decade and a half since the first Infobar was released in October 2003. The display of the first INFOBAR was about 2.0 inches, and the camera had about 310,000 pixels. Fifteen years later, the INFOBAR xv has the same height as the original INFOBAR and INFOBAR 2, and  a body that is not much different in width and thickness to the Infobar II.

                            Au Infobar I alongside InfoBar XV 

The design character of the phone has been skilfully transposed onto a modern device with a 3.1-inch WVGA liquid crystal display and an 8-megapixel camera. Whilst called a “smartphone” it has been configured as a feature phone so as to preserve the signature keyboard.


DoCoMo, Sharp, Q-Pot and chocolate bars


Sharp SH-04B

Description: Limited Edition  clamshell 3G feature phone mobile 2009

In 2009 the Japan mobile operator DoCoMO caught the design world’s attention introducing a mobile under the theme of  “Delicious Communication, Sweet and Melting Chocolate by Q-pot”. Sharp made the mobile in collaboration with Q-Pot and their designer Tadaaki Wakamatsu. The front is a 3-dimentional portrayal of a chocolate bar with or without melted strawberry cream and the reverse has a discrete lightly etched teeth and ghost designs to represent the world of Q-Pot.

At first glance is looks like a tongue-in-cheek bit of fun. But sitting behind is a very clever marketing strategy. Q-Pot have developed a brand around “youth and fun”. It is used to sell fashion accessories. DoCoMo wants to better penetrate the youth market – which the combination of the Q-Pot brand and the chocolate bar novelty achieved.

                  Weaving a successful brand story around a new mobile

The mobile had an 8MP camera on the outside with image stabilisation,  face recognition and smile detection. When the clamshell is opened the interior styling is more conventional with a lower resolution camera. The plan was a limited edition run of 13,000 and two versions called “Melty Strawberry” and “Bitter Chocolate”.

Sharp SH-04C

Description: Clamshell 3G feature phone mobile from 2010

This is the next model from the DoCoMo, Q Pot Sharp collaboration with the theme “Sweet Communication. Nostalgic Biscuit by Q-pot.”

Nostalgic Biscuit by Q-Pot

Q-pot’s own description is: “a unique mobile designed so that it looks like a tasteful biscuit with melting cream, but furthermore feeling crunchy by touching it. It therefore gives a feeling of nostalgia and warmth. You can feel the delight and happiness when holding this cell phone designed by Tadaaki Wakamatsu Q-pot designer. The Q-pot brand is more prominent and the design more biscuit than chocolate bar. The plan was a limited edition run of 30,000  in two main colours of chocolate and cream. The mobile arrives in a box looking like a biscuit box and includes a desktop holder with chocolate or cream motif.

J-Phone SH-04 – The world’s first cellular mobile camera phone

Description: World’s first camera mobile phone on the Japanese J-phone network from 2000

This was one of the significant mile-stones in mobile design, as it had a feature that every mobile and smartphone would eventually copy – a camera lens on the rear of the phone.

There were two versions of the first Sharp camera phone put on the market in 2000, the J-SH04 and the rarer J-SH04s. The hardware was identical.

    1. The phone came in three colours: white, silver and blue. The camera phone shown is the less common white version. To the right of the lens is a curved mirrored surface. 

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      Samsung SGH-F310 Serenata

      Description: Music focused GSM feature/fashion phone from 2007

      Distinctive styling from a collaboration between B&O and Samsung and designed by David Lewis. The mobile had its own hinged stand and the speakers exposed by sliding up the back.

      The sound quality is said to be excellent. It has no keypad but instead had Bang and Olufsen’s clickwheel and a touchscreen. The first mobile with integrated MP3 player appeared in 2000. Had the phone appeared one or two years later it may have been a hit. But appearing in the same year as the Apple iPhone left it as an also-ran. In fact is was ranked as a runner up in Wallpaper’s 2008 Design Awards, losing to the first iPhone.

      Bang & Olufsen Samsung Serene

      Description: Iconic fashion GSM mobile from 2005

      The collaboration was intended to draw on the design strengths of Bang & Olufsen to produce an “iconic” mobile phone for the premium market.


      Bang & Olufsen (Samsung) Serene – Work of Art Scandinavian style

      The phone consists of two halves on an aluminium hinge with an internal power assist motor to help open the phone completely. The screen is at the bottom and the keypad is on the half that flips out to improve the weight balance while holding the phone but the phone can be held the other way up. It is one of the great stand-out phones of the period in terms of catching the eye with its form factor and industrially simplistic design that is one of the design hallmarks of B&O.


      Samsung S9110 watchphone

      Description:  GSM mobile phone built into a wristwatch from 2008

      Samsung announced the wristwatch phone as early as 2003. It was going to be the first smartwatch in the world, but Samsung cancelled it. Six years later, the S9110 was released and heralded as the first smartwatch in the world.

      LG brought out their LG910 watchphone a year later but the S9110 had stolen the show.

      HTC Fender

      Description: Limited edition 3G Android smartphone

      Fender are extremely highly regarded is  the pop music world for their electric guitars and high quality loud-speakers. The HTC showed a lot of marketing sophistication in their collaboration with Fender in 2009 to promote a smartphone directly addressing the youth market.

      HTC Fender Edition – Linking the mobile to a leading brand in the pop music industry

      The Fender limited edition came in guitar case-like packaging. The outside of “the case” was a kind of a fake leather-vinyl that felt nicer than  on many guitar cases. The smartphone came pre-loaded with songs from Avril Lavigne, Brad Paisley, Eric Clapton and Wyclef Jean.

      LG LX600 Lotus

      Description: Square clamshell  CDMS fashion phone with compact full QWERTY keyboard from 2008

      The LG Lotus (LX600) combined stylish design and colour to allow Sprint Nextel to better address the female market segment. It is one of the most exquisite fashion phones of its period.

      LG Lotus – Colour and design making something exceptional 

      In a joint marketing endeavour with LG the US fashion designer Christian Siriano designed a limited edition scarf (described by one commentator as “billowy”) with a pocket specifically to accommodate the LG Lotus. In the same fashion show the mobile was to be seen half out of a pocket in a chocolate coloured vest on the catwalk. The mobile is likely to be remembered for much longer than the Siriano scarf. The LG Lotus is one of the rare mobile phones that could lay claim to being a thing of beauty.

      Samsung Z130

      Description: GSM/UMTS feature phone from 2005

      A number of mobiles with swivel screens came out in this period. The Samsung Z130 makes it even look stylish.  Two years later the Apple iPhone emerged with the picture auto-rotate feature sending the mechanical rotating screen into museum collections.




Nokia 8810 – Introducing style into the design of mobiles (1998)

In 1995 Frank Nuovo established a Nokia design unit to influence and steer the designs of Nokia mobiles. Nuovo has studied industrial design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and also spent time with the studio Designworks before joining Nokia. The Nokia 8810 was announced in 1998 and represented the arrival of style alongside technology advance as a major influence on new mobiles introduced into the market. This was followed a year later by the Nokia 8850.

Nokia 8850 built to catch the eye rather than dazzle with performance or price

Frank Nuovo went on to head the Vertu project which became Nokia;s luxury phone division. Vertu enhanced the status of mobile phones by positioning them at the luxury and high fashion end of the market.

Nokia 7260

Description:   Entry level GSM fashion phone from 2004

Designers at Nokia headquarters in Finland and a part of their Art Deco collection, with the  striking element being the silver contoured lines.

These sleek lines make up the four rows of the keypad and sweep around the edge of the display. While not all of the keys are exactly the same shape, they are roughly the same size. The rows of numbers are separated sufficiently for large fingers to adequately navigate. It was the least expensive of the fashion phones in Nokia’s ‘art deco’ series and the elegance the mobile exuded no doubt played an important role in  off-setting its low feature set and camera resolution.

Nokia 7280

Description:  GSM fashion phone from 2004

Described as one of the best products of 2004 by Fortune Magazine and an iF product design award in 2005. It has a screen that fades to a mirror when inactive and a Navi-Spinner in the place of a keypad.

Known popularly as the “lipstick” phone. The Nokia 7280’s input mechanism was designed by Ron Bird but initially for a semi-professional camera Nokia were developing with the code name was ‘Caprice’ that was never brought to market.

Nokia 7380

Description:  GSM fashion phone from 2005

Part of Nokia’s L’Amour Collection. The 7380 was designed at Nokia’s Design Center in California, led by Miki Mehandjiysky.

Has sensory navigation key which functions like the touch-sensitive navigation wheel of the iPod.

Nokia 7370

Description:  GSM “swivel” fashion phone  from 2005

Part of Nokia’s fashion-focused L’Amour Collection and featuring leather and metallic materials and swivel motion to reveal keypad.

Nokia 7070

Description: GSM low end clamshell fashion phone from 2008

Nokia produced four mobiles in their “Prism” fashion collection: 7070, 7500, 7900 and a luxury version of the 7900 called the Crystal Prism

Very distinctive design made up of a pattern of isosceles triangles to give a prismatic appearance. The aim was to sell the mobile on its looks as it was a fairly basic phone.

Nokia 8800/8801

Description: GSM tri-band Slider with stainless steel body from 2005

The Nokia 8800  is a luxury mobile phone featuring a stainless-steel housing with a scratch-resistant screen. The sophisticated slide mechanism uses premium ball bearings crafted by the makers of bearings used in high performance cars

The 8801 is the  US version of the 8800 that is identical on the outside. The only difference is that the phone operates on the US rather than European GSM bands. Nokia had a very muddled way of numbering their mobile titles. The 8800 arrived seven years later than the 8850.

The mobile has a reassuringly substantial feel to it. It looks expensive  by virtue of being well made and that is a cool image to have projected.

Nokia produced a series of versions of the 8800 to address the high-end market with the Sirocco in 2006, the Arte in 2007 and Carbon, Gold or Sapphire Arte in 2008.

The price premium attracted a small cottage industry of fakers, although one design-craft company called Olinari produced a very distinctive “customised” 8800 called “King Arthur”. The mobile illustrated above is a fake Carbon Gold sold on Ebay for a price that was too good to be true.

Vertu Ascent

Vertu was Nokia’s luxury phone division. Vertu, more than any other enterprise, has propelled the mobile phone into the luxury goods stratosphere and has dominated this top of the market niche.


By 2015 Vertu had sold 450,000 phones world-wide and dominated the super-luxury mobile phone market. Nokia sold its majority stake in the company in 2012.

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Motorola StarTac

Description: Clamshell mobile  produced on a variety of standards (AMPS, CDMA one, TDMA and GSM) from 1996

In the mid-80’s to mid-90’s the dominant mobile manufacturer in the world was Motorola who had a determination to stay on top with a combination of better technology and great industrial design. These two investments were brought together with stunning effect with the StarTac.

Whereas the MicroTAC’s flip folded down from below the keypad, the StarTAC folded up from above the display. A neat consequence  was the aerial was pushed away from the head with the lid in between. The device was relatively thin, light and answering a call was made with a gratifying flip upwards of the lid. The lid was contoured on the inside to prove an efficient acoustic coupling to the ear. It was a very clever mobile phone design.

In 2005, PC World named the StarTAC as the 6th Greatest Gadget of the Past 50 Years (out of a list of fifty). The StarTAC was among the first mobile phones to gain widespread consumer adoption; approximately 60 million StarTACs were sold.


Motorola Razr V3

Description:  Very slim clamshell GSM mobile phone from 2004

The earlier clamshell mobiles with a full screen in the lid had a thickness that made them look inelegant. This led some to take the view that the design was unlikely to catch-on. But it was not a view shared by consumers. Soon the entire market was moving towards clamshell mobiles. When one very senior Vodafone executive in 2003 asked senior people at Nokia why they still had not produced a clamshell design of their own…not a word was said…all eyes looked upwards! The Nokia CEO was one of the sceptics. It was not until late 2003 that Nokia gave way and announced their first clamshell, the Nokia 7200. There was perhaps only 3 months between the Nokia 7200 arriving in the market and Motorola announcing a clamshell mobile that took the world by storm – the Motorola RAZR V3.

The project that led to the Razr began life inside Motorola as a replacement for the StarTac. Right from the outset the Motorola team set “thinness” firmly as a design goal. When it arrived in the market  it sent a high voltage shock right across the industry. It’s slimness at 13.9mm was ground breaking for a clamshell. By way of comparison the Nokia 7200 was 26mm thick. In all regards the RAZR V3 was a master-class in industrial design right down to the electroluminescent keypad made from a single metal wafer.

Because of its unique appearance and thin profile, it was initially marketed as an exclusive fashion phone. However, within a year, its price was lowered and as a result, it sold over 50 million units by July 2006 and over 130 million within 4 years.  The Razr is one of the all time great design stories.

Motorola V70

Description: Swivel GSM  fashion phone from 2002

The twister has the same functional purpose as the slider of breaking the mobile into two parts to reduce the length of the mobile when not in use and the same flick of the thumb to produce a working mobile at its maximum length – but by a quite different mechanism.

Motorola V70 adds the twist mechanism to mobile design history

From a marketing viewpoint the importance to Motorola of the V70 was that it looked eye catching and different. It fitted nicely in the just emerging fashion phone market segment. The performance specification of the phone and quality of construction was not great. But that would be put right later with the Motorola Aura.


Motorola Aura R1

Description:  Swivel luxury GSM mobile from 2008

The Aura brought to their swivel  luxury fashion phone an excellence of materials and construction. It had a stainless steel housing, assisted opening blade mechanism with carbon-carbide  coated gears, a circular sapphire screen and chemically engraved textures. The swivel mechanism gears are visible through clear back window, an idea no doubt borrowed from the luxury watch makers. The launch price was approximately €1,420 (UK£1,200, over US$2000).

Unlike the Razr before it that began it life prices as a luxury mobile and then brought within reach of a larger market, Motorola never thought to bring the price point down sufficiently. In fact Motorola did the exact opposite. Two Aura special editions styled by luxury designer Alexander Amosu were announced at Mobile World Congress 2009: Diamoniqe Edition with 90 diamonds around the circular display and Gold Edition with 24-carat gold-plated housing. The release later that year of the Aura Diamond Edition with only 34 diamonds and 18 carat gold plating was not going to get it into the ballpark of competing with the Nokia 8800 on popularity.  It therefore remained a very high end luxury premium products.

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7. Siemens Collection


Everybody has heard of Siemens the largest industrial manufacturing conglomerate in Europe. Few would associate the name with design and fashion. Yet for a period Siemens were widely recognised as one of the pioneers and leaders in mobile fashion phones and particularly “wearable” phones. It was their Xelibri series that won for them this recognition.

Xelibri “Space on Earth collection”

This series of four phones had a Star Trek theme. They were designed by the in-house Siemens design team. The Xelibri division was headed by George Applin.

 Siemens Xelibri 1

Description: GSM fashion phone from 2003

The Xelibri 1 was described as “The Retro-Futuristic Classic” and came in two colours “Champagne” and Smoke.

Siemens Xelibri X2

Description: GSM fashion phone from 2003


The Xelibri 2 was described as “The Alien Beauty” and came in a green they called “Aqua”

Siemens Xelibri X3

Description: Wearable GSM fashion phone from 2003


The Xelibri 3 was described as “The Mini-Pendant”. It pioneered the wearable phone. It was one of the two least popular in the Xelibri range.

Siemens Xelibri X4

Description: Wearable GSM fashion phone from 2003

The Xelibri 4 was described as “The Dark Hero” in a colour they called “Verdigris”. (The sort of green one sees on on oxidising copper pipes). It was one of the most popular in the Xelibri series.

Xelibri “Fashion Extravaganza” collection

The design for this second series of three mobile was outsourced to the design and consulting company IDEO.

Siemens Xelibri X5

Description: Wearable GSM fashion phone from 2003

This another in the range that can be worn on clothing or attached to a bag via its ‘Click-On adapter’.

Slide it off reveals an unconventional keypad that has three rows with four keys that are back-lit in electric blue.


Siemens Xelibri X6

Description:  GSM powder compact shaped fashion phone from 2003

The Xelibri 6 not only looks like a powder compact but when the lid is open it reveals two mirrors (one with magnification) intended to be useful for a lady applying her lipstick.

The buttons positioned around the edge made texting difficult and not the most comfortable phone to hold to the ear. But it is the stand-out design in delivering the shock and awe of eccentric designs. The aspect that most let down the phone as an object of desire was the cheap plastic used for the case and lack of build quality.

Siemens Xelibri X7

Description: Wearable GSM fashion phone from 2003

This appears the most conventional design in the series until it is turned sideways where it is revealed that the phone is a clip. This makes the mobile very wearable in a practical sort of way.


It’s clip slipped very easily and securely over a belt. It was one of the most popular in the Xelibri series.

Siemens Xelibri X8

Description: Wearable GSM fashion phone from 2003

It was intended to be very cool and attract just the right kind of attention. Its curves and smooth edges made it feel good to hold. There is no keyboard, so the user has to scroll through each number via its “navikey”, pressing the centre button when they get to the right one, before moving onto the next. However, it came with a voice-dialling facility that simplified making calls. However, voice recognition did not extend to inputting text which was a drawback in an age of huge SMS popularity.

Siemens SL55

Description: Pebble shaped Slide GSM mobile from 2003

The Siemens SL55 was one of those designs that some people just fell in love with. It was the quintessential small phone, that was good to look at and its rounded shape made nice to hold.

The sliding mechanism worked extremely well. The colours offered were subdued ruby and titan (grey). However, there were a number of limited edition SL55’s produced where much bolder colours made the phone an even more desirable artifact.

Siemens MC60

Description: GSM mobile from 2003

After a period of functional looking phones from an industry that took no risks on the look of the phone, the need was evident for  more risky designs to attract consumers. Siemens were to embrace the change and the Siemens MC60 was one of their first distinctive designs.

The central 5 key could be used as an instant short-cut to access the camera.

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Apple iPhone

Setting the iPhone 3G side by side with the iPhone 6 (one of their best selling versions) is an interesting snap shot of the iPhone design trajectory.

The first iPhone came out in 2007 followed quickly by the iPhone 3G in 2008. The iPhone 4 was announced in 2010.  The iPhone 5 arrived in 2012 a year after the death of Steve Jobs. By then the “smartphone versus mobile  phone” war had been decisively won by the smartphone. Jobs had not just seen it coming but had led it from the front.



The Best of the Rest

TAGHeuer Meridiist

Description: Super-luxury GSM mobile from 2009

Tag Heuer have been making premium timepieces for the past 150 years and widely recognised for their involvement in elite sport. Their entry into the mobile market at the point of transition from mobile phones to smartphones may not have been ideal timing.

TAGHeuer Meridiist makes hand-craftmanship central to its design

The Meridiist  brought a prestigious brand together with an unpretentious design, fine craftsmanship and expensive materials. The unique design feature is a small messaging display in the top of the mobile allowing the user a discrete glance at the time, calling number identity and even incoming messages. The marketing strap line for the Meridiist was “Time in your Hand”. They claim 430 hand-assembled components sitting inside a sturdy stainless steel body with a screen made from 60.5 carat scratch resistant sapphire crystal. The design succeeds as an object of desire in its class.

Haier P5

Description: Pen shaped GSM mobile that could clip into a top pocket from 2003

The Haier designers combined into the one device a mobile phone and voice recorder, perhaps inspired by the small voice dictating devices around at the time.

The pen shaped styling made the mobile stand out in a crowded market place of usual designs emerging in this period. It also set out to solve a problem of what to do with the mobile when not in use and that was to clip it on the inside pocket of a jacket alongside the fountain pen. The mobile never had the impact the designers had hope for it but found a small niche looking for something different.

Haier P6

Description:  Pen shaped GSM mobile with laser pointer  from 2004

Built to look like a voice memo recorder (it had 15 minute recording capacity), its main distinction is a built in class 2 (1mW) laser pointer that only emitted visible light and not harmful unless stared into for any length of time. It looked a handy device for the travelling salesperson having to give demos but it never took off.

  • Blackberry Pearl

    Description: GSM mobile with full qwerty keyboard  from 2006                                                                                                                                                                                                         

  • The Pearl was the first BlackBerry with a camera and media player and aimed both at the business market and top end of the consumer market. The stand out design feature of the phone is the elegance of the keyboard.


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    10. GSM Collection


    The period 1986 to 1996 saw just over 100 different mobile models put onto the market. By the end of this decade the GSM global scale economies kicked-in.  This led to over 1600 different models of mobile phones being put onto the market over the decade that followed (1997-2007). Picking ten “representative” mobile phones from such a vast number of models is always going to be a bit arbitrary. 

Ten representative GSM phones

But the choice includes two of the best selling mobiles of all time. The Nokia 1100 on the extreme left and the Nokia 1110 second from right sold 250,000 each. (The Motorola Razr and Apple iPhone 6 also sold extraordinary numbers and have their place in the other collections above). Ericsson and Samsung phones are a must to include. The Samsung mobiles are red clamshell in the middle and the world’s thinnest mobile (at the time) on the extreme right. The Ericsson mobiles are the second and third from the right.

The mobile above the line on the left is the Nokia 6310i that was hugely popular in the corporate market. A note came around Vodafone employees in 2003 from the business division asking staff to give back their Nokia 6310i as the corporate customer demand was so high. None could be prized out of the hands of the staff. The design was probably one of the high water marks of the mobile design as “a telephone”. The orange mobile above the line on the right is the Bosch 509e that secured a place in the Museum of Design Plastics for its use of a translucent orange injection moulded polycarbonate.


There were many attempts at mobile phones aimed at the super-rich.  The best in class promoted a high standard of craftmanship using best quality materials. Vertu claimed this space for nearly a decade.  




The high water mark of Vertu mobiles design is the “Signature S” and the “finale” they would probably want to be remembered by is the trio of special edition models they launched in 2012 to welcome in the Year of the Dragon with a choice of “stainless steel and emerald”; “black stainless steel and ruby”; or “yellow gold and diamond”.   It is probably the year when the curtain finally closed on the era of the mobile telephone. It is the year Nokia sold its stake in Vertu. The smartphone was, by now, in rapid ascent. The rise and rise of the iPhone had been matched by the fall and fall of the mobile telephone and the demise of the rich culture of industrial design it had inspired.

A new design straitjacket gripped the industry. Function took over once more. The largest screen size for a given size of smartphone was now “the king” ruling smartphone design.  


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