An inside look at the HTC Evo 4G from Design to Production


Don Koh, Lead Designer for the HTC Evo 4G, has shared some behind the scene details in what was involved in bringing the HTC Evo 4G to market.
The Evo 4G was designed in 2009 and took a total of about 12 months including follow-through to production. During this time Don was the lead designer while working for One & Co. in San Francisco.
According to Don, there were many hurdles and challenges throughout the process and some of the changes that resulted from this had a direct impact in what eventually became the HTC Evo 4G that has sold over 5 million devices to date. Some of the particulars from his story:  
On Friendly Performance:
Being a consumer based Android smartphone the Evo needed a friendly personality to differentiate from its Windows-based business-orientated counterparts. At the same time, being the world’s first 4G, It also had to hint at performance and features. The design uses a crossover between a chiseled shape and a pillow-like back surface to achieve a hybrid personality. Don uses the words “strong” and “soft” to describe the chiseled shape and the pillow-like back surface respectively.
On the Battery Door:
Don states he thought the battery door split line could be a nice design element if proudly used on the back surface of the phone instead on the side where it is commonly placed. This gave the phone an added flavor of technical crispness and made the sides look clean and solid. This also had the added benefit of reducing the association with cheap, molded plastic products.
Smartphone on a Diet:
Additional requirements for a larger battery, integrated kickstand, 4G antenna system, and bigger speaker’s gave the phone a think, undesirable look. They added a high-contrast split on the side as a visual trick to maintain a thin, sleek aesthetic. This visual trick also created the impression of a thick slab of display glass that wraps to the sides and back housing that had a sheet -like gesture.
Big Camera Component:
The integration of an 8MP camera was one of the biggest challenges due to the size of the component. While highlighting this feature was a requirement, they didn’t want it to feel unnaturally big or loud. They needed to find an aesthetic solution that would somewhat mask the size of the component yet would look honest and purposefully “camera like”.
This led to the well-known spherical design that partially protrudes the back surface of the phone. Akin to an eyeball sitting in a socket, it became an interesting and iconic character. Don states he liked that it had the notion of the phone as a housing for powerful, intelligent, internal components.
While the EVO cameral solution proved to be visually effective for wrapping big camera components, it was also a good balance between being iconic and honest. It has since been adopted and evolved by HTC and reapplied on several production phones while also becoming a signature camera detail of the HTC 2010 design language.
Final Production Version:
The Evo was launched by Sprint on June 4th, 2010 with the full black version as the default and the white-black version as the special edition. It broke first day sales records for Sprint, became Best Buy Mobile’s bestselling device, and on June 19th, 2011 broke the “5 million units sold” milestone becoming HTC’s most sold phone ever and Sprints bestselling device in history. In addition, it gathered the 2011 Red Dot Best of the Best award, the 2011 IDSA IDEA Silver Award, and the 2010 Good Design Award from the Chicago Athenaeum.
Additional Notes from Don:
• Inner Strength: Cutting edge technology complemented with expressive design resonates beauty and strength from the inside.
• Complete Production Follow-Through: Don had the chance to work directly with the engineering team from the start through production. The close collaboration was a long process (with a lot of back and forth between engineering optima and design ideals) but Don feels it was crucial for a good outcome.
• Challenging Component Layout: As lead designer, Don was intimately involved in negotiating how components were arranged so that design was not just a compromised after-process of trying to skin a preconfigured layout. This required a lot of collaborative problem-solving between the engineers and the design team with the engineers sometime coming up with the solution and in others the design team had to make changes or find a way around the problem.
• Production Refinement: In the later stages, collaboration with engineering came down to each unnecessary hundredth of a millimeter that could be squeezed out and component locations were fine-tuned so that the exterior was visually balanced. Don states that colors and finishing were also tweaked at this stage and the experience greatly benefitted the process of his other production projects.
• As the first 4G phone: As the first 4G, and one that is positioned as a processing powerhouse, issues ranging from significant component sizes and antenna constraints had to be dealt with. Despite the technology packed in, they managed to achieve a visually slim profile and a light weight gesture that is especially apparent when the Evo is laid on a surface.
Don’s full description of events provides a detailed look at the evolution of a smartphone and is highly recommended to anyone with an interest in what is involved in brining a new device to market. In this day and age where the life expectancy of a new smartphone can sometimes be measured in months, it is a true testament to the efforts of Don and his team that the HTC EVO 4G is still often listed as one of the 10 most popular smartphones over a year after its release.  Check out some of the classic commercials to hit the air waves for a device that became an instant classic.
Video: HTC Evo 4G “Firsts”
Video: HTC Evo “Do Anything”
Video: HTC Evo “Live”