Dave Hakkens on a phone worth keeping

The graduation project of this young Dutch designer might actually save the world.
Posted 18 Dec 14 By Design Indaba Duration: 00:07:26 Product Design Conference Talks / Talks Comments

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Dave Hakkens had a whole host of smart and inventive ideas when he graduated from Design Academy Eindhoven, such as an almost entirely edible pen and flooring made from rubble waste. But he felt dissatisfied with just having great ideas so for his graduation project Hakkens set out to design a product that would change the world. And his Phonebloks cell phone could do just that.

“When I started designing, I always had it in the back of my mind to try to make the world better by making things. I don’t really care what it is – a machine, a concert, a product… as long as it might push the world in a better direction, I’m interested.” 

Hakkens looked into waste and found that e-waste was the fastest growing type with mobile phones in particular contributing substantially to the problem. His solution is Phonebloks, a fully customisable cell phone that uses a “building blocks” approach to making a smartphone.

This means that when one part breaks or consumers want to upgrade their device to suit their particular needs the entire phone doesn’t need to be replaced. The problematic part is simply swapped out, making Phonebloks a sustainable model.

The designer’s graduation project also ended up proposing a new model for production: Hakkens flipped round the usual order of taking a product to market, inviting consumers to create a demand for it first, before anything was even manufactured. So rather than requesting funding to build Phoneblocks or selling it to a corporation, he used crowdspeaking platform Thunderclap to ask people to donate their social reach on Facebook and Twitter to the project.

“I wanted to show the world that there is a lot of need for this phone,” he says.

The response on Thunderclap was explosive.

Within two hours the website was overloaded. My website was offline in an hour, and within 24 hours we had a million views on YouTube, he says.

“When I woke up I had 1 000 Facebook messages, and my Twitter and mailbox had also exploded. From that point on it just started going all over the world,” Hakkens reports.

His Thunderclap campaign ultimately attracted 979 262 supporters, a social reach of over 381 million, 518 385 social followers and just over 16 million YouTube views. Mobile phone and technology companies, such as Nokia, Intel, Ubuntu and Philips, swamped him with interest. 

Motorola attempted to hire Hakkens but he declined the offer.

It’s not really my ambition to work in a phone company.

“I was scared that they would take the project in a different direction because I wanted to make a phone that would reduce waste,” he explains.

Instead, he worked with Motorola on the manufacturing aspects only. He escalated the level of collaborative design for Phonebloks by setting up a website so people could participate in the design process of the product with Motorola.

 “In this way we get a much more open way to develop something, we get the entire world thinking about it and seeing what’s happening instead of doing it secretly and then showing the world,” he explains. “This part is more exciting for me than the phone itself.  To get a company that big to open up is cool.”