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On every scale, from cottage industry to mass market, production starts with research. Johnstone begins by scouring the globe for team members who have the right skills and design sense to match a new user interface with a good-looking phone. “We were scratching our heads,” he says, remembering the first stages of putting it all together. The challenge was to find the best balance between affordable and savvy–inherent values in the market of Skype users. At the same time, the interface had to be easy enough for everyone to pick up quickly. “We have an idea of what customers want,” he explains, “and we have to be able to give the phone to someone who has never used Skype, and they need not only to understand it, but to like it.” The process kicks off with a three-month collaborative concept phase between HWL’s London office and AMOI in Shanghai, with two big questions in mind: How are they going to integrate Skype into the phone, and how would they make a phone that sells for around $100 feel high-quality and cosmopolitan?

The early conceptualization stages sees dozens of marker sketches.

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    Last year saw the European launch of the world’s first mobile phone with integrated Skype, the Voice over IP software traditionally used via computer. This year, the phone arrives in the United States. Like most mass-produced items, mobile phones are usually made in China, and while the Skypephone is no exception, with hardware made and assembled at the Shanghai facilities of AMOI, its parts are sourced from all over the world. The Qualcomm chipset comes from San Diego, the software from iSkoot in Israel. The design was directed by Hutchison Whampoa Limited, the Hong Kong–based company that initiated the project. Dwell recently sat down with Ken Johnstone, director of products at HWL, to discuss the production process.

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