Design Story: Teaming Up on the Nexus 9 Tablet and Accessories

Welcome back to Design Story–your inside scoop on all the buzz around HTC’s latest innovations, as told by our designers. This time, we’ll hear from three of the different design disciplines involved in taking the Nexus 9 tablet and accessories from concept to creation.

From left: Gene Nam, Michael Massuco and Jenny Lee in HTC’s Industrial Design studio in San Francisco.

From left: Gene Nam, Michael Massuco and Jenny Lee in HTC’s Industrial Design studio in San Francisco.

Let’s start by learning what each of your roles on the Nexus 9 project were. How did you all work together to create the finished product?

Daniel Hundt: As Creative Director, I was working with both Google’s and HTC’s teams to come up with a beautiful and cohesive design for the tablet that represents both companies well.

Gene Nam: Michael and I worked on the accessories and really wanted to play with the cover, keyboard and tablet as one cohesive product. What I think was amazing about this project was Google was willing to work with us on the device and the accessories. So, the accessories were always an intrinsic part of the story.

Jenny Lee: I worked on the CMF, which means Color-Material-Finishing, for both the device and accessories. Google was very keen on developing a new tablet for the premium Android market. It was definitely a collaborative process to keep our visions aligned from beginning to end. For me, it was very exciting to work with Google’s team of designers because they were so open to new ideas.

Jenny, can you tell us a little more about CMF? How is it different from industrial design?

Jenny: It’s basically the ingredients that go into making the product look and feel a certain way. Traditionally, CMF has been more of an after thought–you would style the product once the design was done. Now, it’s definitely more integrated into the industrial design process. We’ve started seeing the shift towards more early collaboration between ID and CMF, talking about what the intent is. So that we make sure we are in line as designers from the beginning.

Color material is definitely surface level to most people, but you’d be amazed at how a slight tweak can change the way people respond to the design and product. So, depending on whom you want to target, that really drives color decisions.

Some gut feeling, of course, has a lot to do with the process.

Going back to the collaborative nature of this project, being that this is a Google Nexus device, what were the key decisions or challenges during your process?

Daniel: Our goal was to create an object that would elevate the Android tablet market to the premium sector and be competitive at the high end, so we introduced the anodized aluminum frame to give the tablet a premium feel.

Michael Massuco: When it comes to the accessories, our challenge was designing them as the tablet’s design & layout were still taking shape. We built it all as a whole, so everything was intimately linked throughout development.

Gene: The cover was also tricky because it has complete freedom. There’s no wrong way to use it thanks to a completely unique magnet configuration. We worked very closely with the Google team on this.

Michael: Because of those magnets we have a very casual, easy attachment between device and cover or keyboard folio. Unlike other accessories, there’s no plastic clip, teeth or other clumsy details that make the assembly bulky. Our focus was on thin profile for portability.

Nexus 9 colors: Indigo Black, Lunar White and Sand.

Nexus 9 colors: Indigo Black, Lunar White and Sand.

How many prototypes would you say you made for the cover?

Gene: I think we were beyond a hundred.

Michael: We had mockups made in-house, and I know there were over 40 prototypes from a couple different vendors. We actually got some of the real materials, 3D-printed the structural pieces and glued on custom magnets to make our own examples. That was when we were making tiny millimeters of change, just to try to figure out how to get the stand to be at the right angle.

Gene: So, you know, the product itself runs through a few cycles of internal components that change the center of gravity. That then changes the incident angles of the case, which really affects how you design your experiments.

How long would a prototype for the accessories take you?

Michael: One prototype takes a couple of hours to make. The longest part is waiting for the parts to come off of the printer.

Gene: We could get around two or three cycles a day.

After everything has been said and done, what part of the finished product are you most proud of?

Jenny: The part where it all comes together. For me, it’s great to see all three device colors in production. The color tones are really nuanced neutrals that you don’t see in the market. Our CMF strategy centered around designing a more personal lifestyle product. In the end, we selected colors like Sand that are more sophisticated than regular black and white.

Gene: The keyboard layout is something that we worked out with the Google team. It has a full laptop stroke, so it’s basically zero compromise. The actual deck is only 5 mm thin, so thin that we decided to move the USB connector into the hinge area.

Daniel: I’m most proud of the design of the main camera, which was a high priority for Google as well. It has an integrated metal cone that brings a more premium feel and photographic credibly to it. This supports Google’s efforts to create a seamless hardware-software integration.


Daniel Hundt, Associate Vice President of Industrial Design, outside HTC’s San Francisco studio.

Tell us a little bit about yourself now. How did you become a designer? What inspires you?

Daniel: I’ve wanted to become a designer since I was seven years old growing up in Germany. My family actually had a tenant that was a graphic designer, and I would practice with her in my free time after school. I went on to study industrial design in Darmstadt, Germany. I worked in Audi’s advanced design studio in Munich and Ziba Design in Portland, Oregon before joining HTC.

Michael: I got into it a little later. I started studying design at San Jose University when I was 24 years old. Before that, I was just having fun. I’ve always loved crafting objects and figuring out how things work.

Gene: I got into design late, too. I didn’t find industrial design until way after my first college experience. I fell in love immediately when I found it though. I loved the idea of making products that go to market. It’s amazing! There are so many dimensions to industrial objects. I feel like my products will really impact peoples’ lives and maybe change the future just a little bit.

Jenny: Typically, CMF seeks people from various design backgrounds. And I actually studied graphic design. While working at my last job, I found that I had more of an interest and inclination towards working with color in 3D rather than 2D. But, at first I just kind of stumbled upon [CMF]. When I first discovered it, I was super excited. I didn’t even know the industry existed. It’s better known nowadays and many people pursue it right out of school.

What do you guys like to do in your free time?

Michael: Gene and I have a lot of similar hobbies, in fact. We both work on cars and motorcycles. In my spare time, I do a lot of cross-country riding. Otherwise, I’m just working at my house or hanging out with my daughter.

Daniel: I’m definitely a gourmand and love spending time with my friends. San Francisco is a great place for both of those. I also surf as much as I can. There’s a great spot about an hour and a half north of here called Bolinas. It’s an ideal weekend getaway.

Jenny: I definitely love to travel and be outdoors. I do a lot of travelling for work and try to squeeze in overseas trips when I’m in Asia. I also like to cook and try my hand at different dishes I’ve eaten at restaurants. Nothing fancy, just the ones I think are easy to mimic in terms of flavor and presentation.

Thank you all for taking the time to sit down and chat about Nexus 9. It’s always a pleasure to be here in HTC’s San Francisco office. Until next time, I’ll look forward to hearing about what’s new and exciting from your team.

Stay tuned for more Design Story interviews coming soon. You can always find more details about the Nexus 9 and HTC’s smartphone lineup on HTC.com.