Rakuten Mobile’s smallest smartphone has received big praise from both users and industry experts since launching in October 2019. Now, the Rakuten Mini can add Red Dot Design Award-winner to its list of accomplishments.
What is the Red Dot Award?
The Red Dot Award is an international design award presented by Germany’s Red Dot GmbH & Co. KG. Among many categories, the Product Division established in 1955 has the longest history, and is one of the most prestigious design awards in the world. Each year, more than 18,000 manufacturers and designers submit entries across around 50 categories, and only products that pass a rigorous screening process by design experts receive the award. In the 2021 Product category, Rakuten Mini was chosen for its compact design, which fits comfortably into any lifestyle, its original launcher*1 design, which supports comfortable one-handed use, and its allround functionality — which includes a high-quality camera and FeliCa (contactless RFID support) — impressive for such a compact device.
To learn more about what makes the Rakuten Mini unique, we caught up with the team responsible for making the world’s smallest*2 and lightest smartphone a reality.
Rakuten Mini’s award-winning team talk about the device’s appeal
How do you feel about receiving the Red Dot Award?
Hiroki Kawaue, Rakuten Design Lab
When I first heard about this project, my interest was piqued because of the unusual brief to create a design that had never been attempted before, in terms of its compact size and the like. I’m very happy that this challenging project was recognized with this kind of award.
Tadashi Tsukamoto, Device Platform Department
This was Rakuten Mobile’s first original smartphone, and we made something quite challenging in terms of its size and shape. I’m delighted with the fantastic response to the product, how well it’s been received by our customers and now winning this special award.
Yusuke Inoue, UX Strategy
Rakuten is a company that mainly focuses on online services, so it was very valuable to have the opportunity to design a physical product. I was able to be involved in the design of Rakuten Mobile’s first original smartphone and then won an international award for it, so I think it was a great experience for me and our team members.
The phone’s compact design was well received. What made you aim for this size?
We wanted a phone that could easily be carried anywhere, like when you’re just going to the corner store, so we focused on making it the size of a credit card. While it is small, we were intent on including a full range of convenient, daily-life functionality, like FeliCa contactless payment. It can be a hassle to carry a bag when you’re just going to the corner store, so we went through a lot of trial and error to create a product that would make people feel that just having the Rakuten Mini in their pocket is all they need.
Are there any particular elements that you focused on in your design?
As this is our first original smartphone, we went through a lot of discussions about the design. We paid attention not only to the texture and size of the product, but also to tiny details like the design and position of the logo on the back of the device. The logo on the back ended up being the simplest design we could come up with, but I think it embodies the idea of providing simple services by stripping away the unimportant stuff, which Rakuten Mini and Rakuten Mobile both aim for. Also, for the splash screen*3 that appears when the phone is turned on, we focused on creating a simple yet exciting animation that makes people eager to start using it.
The launcher in Rakuten Mini is also an original design. How did you go about designing it?
At the beginning of development, since the LCD screen had to be small due to the compact design we were aiming for, we encountered problems such as the text being too small to read and buttons being hard to press. So, while referring to not only other smartphones but also other products like home appliances and IoT products, we developed an original launcher that fits in the hand and is easy to use. In fact, we even analyzed and incorporated features from products that necessitate operation on a small screen but also have multiple functions, such as microwave ovens and rice cookers.
What message would you like to convey to Rakuten Mini users?
As an outdoor sports enthusiast myself, I’ve actually been looking forward to this product since before it was released. The Rakuten Mini is perfect for intense sports like mountain climbing, since it fits in your pocket and has a GPS function. I hope you’ll take the Rakuten Mini with you when you’re climbing mountains, running or doing other sports!
It’s a unique product, so at first I was unsure, wondering whether people would like it or not. But it’s been very well received, and that makes me extremely happy as a developer. I’d like to keep on creating cutting-edge products like Rakuten Mini, so please expect more to come.
Personally, I often use it as an alternative to a wallet. It doesn’t get in the way when it’s in my pocket, and of course I can use cashless payment apps like Suica and Rakuten Pay, so it’s more convenient than carrying around an actual wallet or card case. I hope our customers will be able to experience this kind of convenience as well.
In addition to the Rakuten Mini, Rakuten Mobile’s original smartphone lineup also includes Rakuten BIG, Rakuten Hand and Rakuten BIG s, which have all been designed with the same kind of care and attention to detail as the Rakuten Mini.
*1 Launcher: A smartphone home screen that displays apps.
*2 For smartphones equipped with mobile FeliCa. According to the company’s research in July 2019. ‘Smallest’ is based on a comparison by volume.
*3 Splash screen: The screen that appears during loading time when a product or application is launched.