Complex Made Simple

Hutch Hutchinson: Vertu’s ‘industrial designer’

Hutch Hutchinson is the head of design at luxury mobile producer Vertu. In the interview below, he shares his views on how industrial design is different from pure art and, of course, his thoughts on Vertu’s new Signature Touch.

The new Signature Touch really looks like an upgrade from its predecessor: what is different?

They look reasonably similar, but that is actually the one component shared between them.

We’ve been doing this for a number of years now and we decided not to rip it up and start all over again. If you have a good, winning formula, all you need to do is further refine it, so this is definitely an evolutionary step for us.

So, what are the main different components on the new Vertu Signature Touch?

There wasn’t a lot wrong with the earlier version, but as a designer you always think that if you had more time you could do things better and differently.

So, the back of the phone now looks more refined and simple – of course, this is for functional reasons. The speakers have also been enhanced for aesthetic and practical purposes.

Our design language has always been really linear, long, straight and kind of making a statement. It’s not a phone you buy because you don’t want to make a statement.

So design accommodates functionality at Vertu.

I don’t like doing things just for decoration’s sake. If you do your job properly as a designer, you give people stuff that is useful and looks beautiful.

I think there is a difference between being an industrial designer, which is what I do for a living, and an artist.

In art, aesthetic is everything, but if an industrial designer gives you a product that doesn’t work as well as it can, then something is wrong. But this is what I find to be an opportunity and a challenge; it is why I get up in the morning.

Does technology limit or restrict design and creativity?

Everything on there is there for a reason. So yes, technology completely compromises design, but that is the nature of the job and that is why I exist – because you have to make something that gives a genuine user benefit.

But again, this probably has it roots in the fact that I was originally trained as an engineer and spent half of my working life doing that before shifting to design.

Why did you make the shift?

I realized that the balance of power in the world has changed. Design used to be for styling things, but has taken on a much bigger meaning.

Now, design is about understanding users and giving them what they want by creating objects that do that.

What is your definition of luxury?

I think luxury used to be defined by some very old-school values around rarity, which is still true ­– the fact that it is a huge investment of someone’s time and trouble – and that it is difficult to do.

I think this definition kept on growing until the financial crisis of 2008. I think that has changed the face of luxury and people began to look for real values in things again. They started questioning the world of bling that has popped around them. Now they question provenance, authenticity, a brand’s morals and conduct and philanthropy; all these things became real. So, I believe there has been a turn in luxury, heading towards more sustainable models. Also, it has become more experiential.

Having said that, how do you think a luxury brand can sustain its value and position in this day and time?

Gluing more and more diamonds onto a phone and saying it costs this much is a very easy trap to fall into, but it’s not very clever. I think it is just better to make a phone that is five times stronger than anything else, one that cannot scratch and gives user benefits – and then use all the beautiful materials in it.

There is a quote that has always lived with me: “A brand of conviction will always outperform a brand of confection”. So, if you begin to pollute your core essence as a brand, you won’t know who you are anymore.