Incorporating the Message into the CMF
(Color, Material, and Finish) (Part 2)
—arrows 5G F-51A

Posted: August 18, 2021

With an ultra-thin 7.7 mm body, a smooth frame that appears metallic, and a rear design that evokes futurism and technology, the arrows 5G F-51A is a must-have 5G-compatible smartphone. We spoke with Nobuharu Masuyama, who was in charge of the CMF design, about the difficult balance between technical specifications and the materials best suited for the new 5G millimeter wave technology, and what he focuses on when thinking about the design.

Takeaways from Part 2

  • CMF designers need not only a sense of design, but also knowledge of technology and materials.
  • It is important to remove barriers between technology, materials, and design.
  • Even at a glance, the excellent design communicates what the product is intended to convey.

Focusing on a 0.1 mm difference—achieving both good design and the label of thinnest in the world

The arrows 5G F-51A was designed to be the flagship model of 5G millimeter-wave compatible smartphones. The ultra-thin 7.7 mm body and sleek design make it stand out from other 5G smartphones that were released around the same time. What Masuyama focused on for this modern design was making sure the device is able to convey at a glance that it is the flagship model at the top of the lineup of Japan's first millimeter-wave compatible arrows series.

Every corner of the arrows 5G F-51A was made with attention to detail

The arrows 5G F-51A demonstrates attention to detail in many areas, such as the back panel, which combines multiple layers of coating and intricate textures that appear metallic and evoke the upcoming 5G wave, the gradation on the bottom of the body that serves as a metaphor for the technology that supports its high functionality, and the natural curve of the body that allows it to fit comfortably in the hand despite the large screen. Masuyama recalls that he was most focused on the device's thinness.

"Actually, at one point, the addition of the panel on the back that represents the 5G wave resulted in a thickness of 7.8 mm. To prioritize thinness, we thought we should use only paint, but in the end, we settled on the original panel design and managed to achieve a thickness of about 7.7 mm," recalls Masuyama.

An ultra-thin body with good design

The difference between 7.7 mm and 7.8 mm, just a tenth of a millimeter, is so subtle that users wouldn't really notice the difference even if they compared the devices in their hand. Why were they so focused on achieving this 0.1 mm difference?

"When this 5G device was actually released in Japan, it was very close to being the thinnest in the world. To put it in an extreme way, we had a tremendous debate about whether to remove the world's thinnest label and keep the design, or to toss out the appearance and make the world's thinnest device. In the end, we decided on a finish that would maintain a thickness of about 7.7 mm, and we were all relieved," says Masuyama, describing the difficulties they faced at the time.

CMF designers are required to have not only design sense but also technical knowledge

The arrows 5G F-51A actually had various issues other than the 0.1 mm difference. Masuyama explains that the frame surrounding the body was the most difficult part of the design.

Normally, smartphones have an antenna slit, which is a black plastic line about 1 mm thick, but the arrows 5G F-51A does not have an antenna slit. Millimeter waves are very small and require a large antenna block, and the frame covering the antenna block will transmit the waves more efficiently if made of plastic material.

However, according to Masuyama, "The concept of the first millimeter-wave flagship device to be launched in Japan cannot be communicated using cheap materials like plastic. We should convey our message to the users with the right appearance. That's what we thought. It was very difficult to make the materials we wanted to use work with the technical specifications."

In this way, in the design process, there was a struggle between the designers' desire to use a metal frame and the technological restrictions of the metal frame that would not allow millimeter waves to be handled efficiently, namely, a conflict between CMF design and technology.

In the end, a frame that was hybrid-molded from metal and plastic was used for the arrows 5G F-51A, and by reducing the thickness little by little in each process, a thickness of approximately 7.7 mm was achieved.

"There are over ten coats of paint on the frame. A typical device is painted with three to four coats, but this device has more than ten layers. The reason of this is that we wanted to remove the seams and create a shiny metallic texture that looks like anodized aluminum. There is a limit to how much paint you can apply, so to cover that, we applied a strong gradation, followed by over ten layers and a smooth polish, which is a complicated process.

In addition, the use of millimeter waves requires large antenna blocks, and with design sense alone, it is difficult to deal with issues such as whether or not to make them visible and how to transmit the waves efficiently. CMF is also closely related to technology, so I think it requires the kind of designer that has technical knowledge in addition to design knowledge," says Masuyama.

What to convey as a message—something to always keep in mind when designing

What do they focus on when designing products?

Masuyama responds, "My style is to think about what I want to convey as a message in my design. I always keep in mind how I can communicate messages and stories and how to make them feel good to our users."

The device that was born as a result of this process, the arrows 5G F-51A, was the recipient of the Good Design Award in 2020. Masuyama comments, "I think one of the reasons why we were able to win the Good Design Award this time was the timing of the 5G wave, but I also think that our unique design and UI were well-received considering all smartphones are starting to look alike these days."

The futuristic design is achieved with vapor deposition treatment that gives it a metallic appearance

"I think that excellent design is one that can tell you at a glance what this design or product is trying to convey, and how it should be used. On the other hand, it could be a design that is very impactful, even if you don't know what it does. I think something like that can also be considered good design," he added.

Masuyama says that he wants to make the most of his expertise as a consumer-oriented designer in the future. "As I mentioned before, arrows 5G F-51A contains many messages, so please try using one for yourself. I hope that the messages we put in the design are conveyed to everyone," he concludes.

Masuyama says that just as a story can be spun from individual words, a story can also be created through the accumulation of small design ideas. His passion and confidence can be felt in his tone of voice as he talks about the background behind the story of the product.

Nobuharu Masuyama,Design Center

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