Designing Communication

Without a doubt, cell phones are the dominating tool of communication in modern day America. And with our phones starting to rule over our communication, it is important that they are effective tools. So we spend our free time talking about the newest phones and what changes we can expect. Phones have become such a prominent part of our lives that we no longer need them to fit into our pocket, because they’ll spend the majority of their time in our hand. Thus, our culture is witnessing a pattern of ever-growing smartphones, from 2003’s thin and efficient Motorola RAZR, to the newest iPhone 6 plus. Respectively, the phones range from a 2.2 inch screen to a vast 5.5 inches on Apple’s latest technology.

Why the size gap? In BloombergBusinessweek’s technology section, Brad Stone writes that the change in pace is the result of a change in function. Essentially, because communication is no longer a cell phone’s only function, the design of the phone must match the purpose. Don Norman, director of the Design Lab at the University of California at San Diego, says “Small phones were elegant. Remember, they were a reaction against the big old clunky bricks we started with. But then phones evolved. We don’t talk on them any longer. We use these devices for maps, restaurant reviews, and for texting our friends and listening to music. So the screen becomes very important, and small screens are miserable to use.”

Cell Phones

The change in phone size over the years creates a difficult scenario for designers who have to find an intricate balance between physical aesthetics and overall functionality. Sleek and small is physically appealing, but will not work for smartphones that serve as many purposes as the ones we have today. Designers and technology experts have created an incredible crossroads of aesthetics and functionality in the currently accepted thin, rectangular smartphones. This is what we call phenomenal communication design.

“Communication design happens when there is an intervention into some ongoing activity through the invention of techniques, devices, and procedures that aim to redesign interactivity and thus shape the possibilities for communication.” (Aakhus, 2007) First of all, cellular communication is a form of communication design by this definition simply because it shapes possibility for communication. But what we are really talking about is what phone developers such as Samsung and Apple are communicating to their audience through the design of their phones. Without even consciously realizing it, we as a culture accept bigger phones as better because current technology is telling us this is the case, when only 10 years ago the opposite was true. The evolution of smartphones and the growing sizes are messages to the world, letting us know that phones are no longer expected to be used solely for communication. They are cameras, maps, televisions, research tools, music, games, news, knowledge, and status. That being said, what shapes and sizes of phones do you think we might see in the future? Will the pattern of growing continue, or have phones reached their size limit?


Aakhus, M. (2007). Communication as design. Communication Monographs, 74(1) ,112-117.

By: Kelli Hall, Stephanie Jordan, Morgan McCleaf, Shawn Rause, and Danielle Walters