Last year, French designer Sylvain Boyer proposed a silly but radical idea in the world of branding: If companies like Nike and Apple simply tweaked their logos with some stylish white space, they could consume countless fewer gallons of ink a year.
He called the plan Ecobranding. And now, Boyer is back to do the same thing for your smartphone. But instead of saving ink, this time he created a smartphone interface that saves you power.
It’s called FriendUI, and it’s designed for the new OLED displays that are being used by smartphone makers like LG, Google, and Apple. OLED displays don’t use any energy to activate black pixels, so in FriendUI, just about everything is black. At any given moment when you’re using your phone, much–or even most–of the display is actually off, saving you valuable battery life.
In fact, the Pixel 2 has an always-on screen based on this exact premise, and the iPhone X has a Dark Mode reported to save hours of battery life. But Boyer extends the concept to the core interface. With a black backdrop, he thins out all of the energy-hungry white typography, making each glyph as thin as possible, utilizing high contrast for legibility. The black keyboard, in particular, is actually quite stunning (as well as energy efficient) thanks to this approach. Boyer also ditches the colorful wallpapers on most displays for black-and-white versions instead. Seeing all those address book portraits in black and white is really quite tasteful, making Samsung and Apple’s penchant for oversaturated colors feel downright gaudy by comparison.
Other details you may have noticed are less about power savings than usability. Boyer shaped app icons as horizontal ovals, mirroring the angle and shape of your own fingerprint. It’s an interesting idea! Though technically speaking, you could display an icon that was a perfect square, but optimize the unseen touch screen components for your diagonal finger taps. I’d bet that Apple has done just that with the iPhone for a decade.
Overall, though, it’s a compelling concept. I do think that Boyer could have taken it even further. Do our icons need color? What about those white and gold chat bubbles he uses on the phone–couldn’t those be thin outlines instead? And animations! Animations us a lot of processing power, and thereby energy. Couldn’t he have shaved those away, too? Oh, and how about our experience inside apps themselves? Are those the same as always?
But of course, one reason that Boyer’s concept is so enticing is that it doesn’t feel like we’re sacrificing all that much to save what might add up to hours of battery life per charge (plus, a low-saturation interface may have mental benefits). In that sense, FriendUI is essentially sustainable hedonism, where efficient design is also more enjoyable, in smartphone interface form. Don’t be surprised if we see manufacturers lean even further toward FriendUI’s efficient graphics than we have already.