Telus works with OCAD to design future handsets

Industrial design students at the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD) are taking part in a program which could lead to a new wireless phone or PDA device.

OCAD is partnering with Telus to include a new course to the third-year industrial design program aimed at teaching students how to design handsets for wireless phones in the Canadian market. Students will work in teams, with the most ground-breaking and functional design being reviewed by Telus and potentially put into commercialization for the mass market.

“It could be the first time a handset, starting from the design level, has been carried out from soup to nuts in Canada,” Jules Goss, chair for the industrial design program at OCAD, said. “The idea is we get some very valid research and then turn that into a design proposal. The ultimate aim is we get some feet on the ground and really take it somewhere.”

While Telus couldn’t divulge all the specifics, executives did say that if the winning design fits with its client base, it would work with a third party vendor to develop the handheld. And the fact that the device would be homegrown makes the project even more appealing for the wireless vendor.

“We’re definitely confident that we’re going to see some interesting designs come out of this,” Smithers said. “We usually see designs coming out of China, Europe, or the U.S., so Canada isn’t really known for this in the mobile phone space.”

As part of the course, students will be able to get guidance from Telus employees in order to assist them in taking user research and information and translating it into a design proposal.

“For the young industrial design students, who are so engaged in this digital, emergent world, to be able to articulate those insights into the next generation of products is a great opportunity for them as well as Telus,” Goss said. “The value of what design education can provide is a testing ground where we can provide an opportunity for students to engage in theory and experimentation to hopefully arrive at a great conclusion.”

Telus said they are looking for a product that will appeal toward the mass market. The key to a successful design will be a plan that looks at behavourial and usage trends and where the Canadian handheld industry is heading over the next few years. But despite looking for something with mass consumer appeal, the telecommunications company said it expects the needs of businesses will be very much intertwined and addressed in the course.

“Consumers and businesses alike are looking for products and services that deliver ultimate productivity and communications abilities, as well as entertainment, information and messaging services, all-in-one bundle,” Julie Smithers, a spokesperson for Telus, said.

As for the potential of PDA or smart phone design coming out of the program, Goss said it could be a possibility in today’s post-iPhone world with the line between the business user and consumer user becoming blurred.

“It’s a little difficult, unless you’re dealing with something like the BlackBerry, to completely draw a line between business use and mass market or personal use,” Goss said. “So at the moment, we are looking at phones like the iPhone as well as the Razor to try and find out why they became such a phenomena.” Goss said that while the form and look of the phone is important, the course will be greatly concerned with how Canadians use their phones, what they feel can be improved upon and what features are missing.

“How people use the device is very much part of the design, because you can’t design something unless you understand how it fits with the user,” Goss said. “One of the reasons that this project happens is because we’ve really quantified what designers really do. It’s not just about the form of the phone; it’s also about the entire ecology of its use.”

Telus’s secondary goal for the partnership is to try and help a group of students become better prepared for potential careers in the telecommunications and wireless industry.

“We haven’t seen an educational system that’s directly related to the mobile phone industry at this point, so hopefully what we’ll see come out of this is students more equipped to meet the needs of the wireless industry,” Smithers said.

In addition to prize for the winning group’s design, one student from the course will be selected to receive a four-month internship with the company’s products and services team.