The Phone Made for Minimalists

Joe Hollier, co-creator of the first phone designed to be used as little as possible, speaks about resisting digital distractions and the benefits of ‘going light’

As far as advertising slogans go, ‘designed to be used as little as possible’ is a far cry from ‘Just Do It’ or ‘I Want My MTV’, and is maybe one of the most unlikely examples in marketing history. Coined by Joe Hollier and Kaiwai Tang, co-creators of the Light Phone, its strength lies in the fact that the majority of us spend a worrying amount of time on our smartphones, and we’re all too aware of it. 

Some even call it an addiction. In fact, recent research claims that US consumers spend an average of five hours per day on their phones. The Light Phone’s USP then, is that it was made to be as simple and rudimentary as possible. Small, sleek and no bigger than a credit card, it is designed to be used as a second phone; a way to log off from the internet while still being contactable. 

Hollier and Tang came together on an app design programme run by Google. For Hollier, a graphic designer, artist and skateboarder, the programme ended up highlighting the greed and cynicism of the tech industry.  

“I realised quite quickly that, on one hand, apps all claim to make our lives better,” he explains. “But on the other hand, what all the founders and investors were talking about was retention: how many hours a day do your users actually use the app. Because the more addicted they become, the more ads you can sell them, the more data you can collect, and the more money you can make. So I saw this disconnect. How can you be claiming to make my life better when you’re really just taking up all of my time?” 

By the time the Light Phone was being tested, they found that first-time users often experience something that they now call ‘going light.’ “When someone ‘goes light’ there’s an initial anxiety, maybe tapping their pockets, maybe feeling like they’re missing something, maybe they’re at a café and can’t resort to looking down at their phones and they start making awkward eye contact with people,” Hollier continues. It sounds like satire, though it’s undoubtedly close to the truth. “But there’s always this moment when you stop caring, you forget about Instagram and you’re able to relax and experience the present.”

Given the Light Phone’s minimal design and limited features, the question remains: why buy a Light Phone when a simple Nokia could do the same job?  

“The design and the form are very important,” Hollier says. “The object of the Light Phone, image-wise, is designed to make the experience as special as possible. It’s hopefully something that you’ll be proud to pull out of your pocket. And then there’s the fact that you can keep the same number.”

Admittedly, there’s no getting away from the irony of using technology to combat technology addiction, but this isn’t the first time disruptors have subverted it in this way. With mindfulness apps and smart jewellery start-ups, the Light Phone seems to be part of a growing independent tech sector that promotes personal well-being. 

“One big thing about the Light Phone is the conversations it allows you to have about technology,” explains Hollier. “Even if someone doesn’t buy the phone, maybe it’s inspired them to question their personal phone use. Our goal was only ever to show how most technology is sponsored by big companies who don’t care about us, who just want our time and money. So the real question that the Light Phone poses is: why? And where do we go from here?”

Find out more about the Light Phone here