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Huawei's focus on design, making great products & 'true value' - Interview with VP of Mobile Design, Joonsuh Kim
The smartphone market is congested no matter where you look – China, Europe, the US – the list goes on. So how do device manufacturers stick out of the crowd? Specifications and internal components can only get a smartphone so far. With that said, we sat down with HUAWEI’s Mobile Design Vice President Joonsuh Kim, and he spoke to us about HUAWEI’s vision, inspiration and what the company has planned for the future. Kim isn’t just in charge of design. He overlooks every product that the company sells, whether it’s the Huawei or their Honor brand.
Kim joined the company in late 2012, prior to holding the position of Design Director at Samsung Mobile for the majority of the late 2000’s. He holds a Master’s Degree in Industrial Design from the Pratt Institute in New York, and achieved his Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Design from Hongik University in Seoul, Korea.
“Two years before HUAWEI, many people might have laughed at our vision. It was aggressive, and forced us to make big changes very quickly in the company.” This is a quote from Kim, and it’s an ongoing theme that he touches on throughout his entire presentation.
Two years before HUAWEI, many people might have laughed at our vision. It was aggressive, and forced us to make big changes very quickly in the company.
Huawei’s vision is to create genuinely great-performing products that not only satisfy the user from a performance and design standpoint, but smartphones that can be offered at an affordable price point. They call this mindset true value, and it’s another theme you’ll be hearing quite a bit from the company going forward.
Simply put, HUAWEI strives to be a smartphone manufacturer that can sell their products globally without a problem. They don’t want to be marketed as a manufacturer that represents China. Not because they’re ashamed for any reason, but because they want to appeal to the rest of the world as an OEM from China, not a Chinese OEM. To accomplish this, HUAWEI has set up offices around the world that aim to draw inspiration from different regions. They have offices in China, Korea, Western Europe and in emerging markets to draw inspiration. In terms of marketshare, the company is relatively unknown in the US. They are, however, working with certain US carriers to bring more innovative products to the United States, so it’s clear that HUAWEI is active in their global design research.
They also have an office in Paris which they refer to as their “aesthetic design center”, where they consult with the design and fashion industries and follow trends in the fashion world. Based on their feedback, they develop new goals every year to work towards in the design space.
Kim explains where the inspiration comes from for the company’s P Series:
When you see a car passing by out of the corner of your eye, you can easily recognize that it was either a BMW or a Mercedes. In a way, that's what we're attempting to do with our devices.
He goes on to say that these days, so many companies are incorporating metal materials into their designs. While it’s important to incorporate new materials into design, they’re still thinking of ways to innovate with plastic, and how it can be more functional and beautiful.
For the company’s flagship line, they tend to use neutral colors – something that will be inviting to the user – but still built in a way that stands out. Relating to users is what the company is all about. Building an emotional connection with the user will help build the consumer base faster than anything.
Perhaps the most prominent aspect of the presentation is the ‘true value’ theme. HUAWEI’s constantly thinking of how exactly they can build beautiful devices and still keep them at affordable price points, which is what true value is all about. Building a smartphone with the best specifications on the market isn’t what they’re striving for. Building a quality smartphone with an astounding user experience, while still being offered at an aggressive price point is the main focus.
In our interview with Mr. Shao Yang, HUAWEI’s Vice President of Marketing, he explains this in greater detail. When asked about Apple’s rise in the Chinese market and how HUAWEI will rival them, Yang explains:
HUAWEI isn’t solely a low-cost device company. With that said, we put a lot of research into making our product the best, rather than the ‘most premium’. If we go head-on with a company like that in the high-end market, we will lose… What kind of quality do consumers expect for a certain price point? That’s a question we ask ourselves often.
This mindset is how the company plans to differentiate themselves from the other OEMs on the market. They obviously don’t have as much money as Apple or Samsung, so they focus on other aspects that are important to users. One example is that they focus on closing the gap between themselves and consumers by offering inexpensive devices directly through their online store. If HUAWEI can dial in on this idea, they believe that they can truly go far in the global market.
HUAWEI IN THE FUTURE
Aside from focusing on online sales and true value, HUAWEI aims to bring a certain design language to their upcoming flagship devices, while still differentiating between the two brands that they’ve worked so hard to build up.
Kim tells us that smartphones under the name Huawei are meant to act as the company’s flagship products. Devices that have top-of-the-line specifications and are generally more premium fit into this category. On the other hand, the company’s HONOR brand is meant to appeal more to young consumers. Devices that are more affordable, and therefore accessible but don’t skimp on the goods will carry the HONOR brand name.
Huawei will keep these brands separate going forward. In order to stop the two brands from competing with one another, they’ll continue to differentiate these two by offering different design languages, different features and different price points.
Perhaps HUAWEI is on to something with their idea of true value. Shipments for the HONOR brand jumped from 1 million to 20 million worldwide in 2014 alone. What’s more, the company’s overall smartphone sales grew by a massive 33% just last year. As you can see, it’s clear that the company has a good set of ideals that are already showing some positive results. And whether these standards finally break them into the US smartphone market or not, Kim’s design values and goals will keep making HUAWEI a big player in the global market.