dark mode light mode Search

Special Projects Conceives Paper Envelopes That Turn Smartphones Into Basic Devices

Envelope / Special Projects

London design studio Special Projects has realized a series of paper envelops 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,” explains Special Projects. “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,” continues Special Projects.

 Envelope / Special Projects

There is a growing community of people who manually set their screens to grayscale in an attempt to dull down the bright colors 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 MP01 by 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.

 Envelope / Special Projects

Inspired by these ideas Special Projects 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.

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.

 Envelope / Special Projects

Amazingly, touch screens still work through a layer of paper 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 optimized 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,” said Special Projects co-founder Adrian Westaway. “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.”

 Envelope / Special Projects

“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,” continues Studio Projects. “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 / Special Projects

Although the envelope currently only fits the Google Pixel phone, the project is completely open-source and could be adapted to suit any device.

The team has also considered the environmental impact of the project, claiming that printing out one page per day for a whole year would produce approximately 10 grams of CO2.

For comparison, Special Projects calculated that using a mobile phone produces 1.25 tonnes of CO2 a year per person, once the energy requirements for account networks and server infrastructure are taken into account.