Special Projects
Finding a balance with technology
A set of envelopes which temporarily transform your phone into a simpler, calmer device, helping you take a break away from your digital world.
Calm Technology, Digital Wellbeing, Mindful Technology, Calm User Interface, Digital and Physical
A set of envelopes which temporarily transform your phone into a simpler, calmer device, helping you take a break away from your digital world.
One envelope turns your phone into a very basic device which can only make and receive calls, while the other turns your phone into a photo and video camera with no screen, helping you focus on what’s in front of you.

As a studio we’re interested in the theme of digital wellbeing, and more specifically how leading technology companies are now integrating wellbeing features into their software.

We created a series of concepts for the Google Digital Wellbeing Experiments platform as a way of sharing our approach to finding a balance with technology.

We were fascinated by existing ways of reducing technology use, such as making your device less appealing. There is a growing community of people who manually set their screens to grayscale in an attempt to dull down the bright colours and patterns that some apps use to lure you into their universe.

Others go further by buying a second, much simpler phone to use during weekends or holidays where they want to focus on friends and family. These are often old Nokia devices which can only dial numbers, but a few beautiful products designed specifically for reducing technology dependency have been released such as the Punkt MP02 by one of our design heroes Jasper Morrison, and the Lightphone.

Finally, some companies such as Distractagone and Yondr market special lockable bags and boxes into which you seal your phone during a meeting or concert.

Inspired by these ideas we wanted to create a more accessible product, which would enable anyone to try a day without a phone without committing to purchasing a new device.

To use Envelope, you simply choose the right envelope for your day, and seal your phone inside.

The first envelope acts as a simple phone, which only allows you to make and receive calls, as well as selecting a speed dial contact. A special app on the device takes over the screen and simply waits for you to dial. The wonderful thing about paper is that light can shine through it, which enabled us to design a delightfully calm but magical user interface where the printed buttons glow once they have been pressed.
"I have to admit, it’s quite refreshing to see such a simple solution to reducing your screen time."
Cara Curtis
The Next Web
The second envelope acts as a minimalistic camera, which allows you to take photos and videos, but won’t show you the end result. This gives you a feeling reminiscent of a 35mm film camera, where you have to wait to develop the photos.

Amazingly, touch screens still work through a layer of paper (you can try it right now!) because they sense the capacitance of your finger which is only slightly affected by the envelope. Existing functions such as fingerprint locking still function, and the user interface of the app is optimised for OLED displays, which means it won’t drain your battery if it’s on all day long.
As a studio we are mildly obsessed with the idea of calm technology, introduced by Mark Weiser at Xerox Parc in 1995 and more recently explored and evolved by Amber Case. Most of our work has explored using physical objects as tangible ways of interacting with technology, and in this particular concept a piece of paper acts as an incredibly basic, one-way user interface between a person and the information in their device.

We explored the idea of making the envelope more durable, out of materials like Tyvek but we felt that this would be a temporary product, not destined to be used forever. We also felt we would increase the chances of somebody sticking to their goals by making the envelope destroy itself when it is unsealed. As we explored in Paper Phone, the second project in this series, the environmental impact of using a sheet of paper rather than a phone for a day is surprisingly low.

Envelope is only a concept at this stage, but we hope you enjoyed our approach in finding a balance with technology and please do check out another similar project - Paper Phone

You can download this pdf and print it out to make your own envelope right now. Currently we only support the Google Pixel 3a.

Experiments with Google
Try the Android app on the Play Store
Download the code on GitHub
Make your own envelope now (Google Pixel 3a)