In early March of last year, Federico Casalegno, Samsung’s Head of the Samsung Design Innovation Center (SDIC) and Mobile Experience Planning, was leading a team of designers spread across three countries. Most of his team worked out of the SDIC design lab in the heart of Silicon Valley—a place of hands-on prototyping and research where many of the company’s most future-looking technologies begin to take shape. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and seemingly overnight everything changed. Casalegno and many of his fellow designers began working from home, where they conducted team meetings, user research interviews, and product demos through video conversations.

Federico Casalegno, Samsung’s Head of the Samsung Design Innovation Center (SDIC) and Mobile Experience Planning

Federico Casalegno, Samsung’s Head of the Samsung Design Innovation Center (SDIC) and Mobile Experience Planning

The rapid transformation of the team’s work life was a crash course in extreme user empathy. They, like the very people they were designing products for, had to adjust to a new reality where every interaction was mediated through a screen. As school courses, business meetings, fitness classes, and healthcare visits moved online, Casalegno had a lightbulb moment: Despite the physical distance between people, humanity is more connected than ever; and designers have a unique opportunity to create a more equitable, healthy, and sustainable shared future for people across the planet.

Even before COVID, Samsung’s design ethos was humanity-centered and experience-driven. This is made possible by placing people and their diverse set of needs at the very core of all aspects of the design journey, which is preceded by gaining an understanding of societies, cultures, and human values. Values more than technological capabilities dictate what the designers create.

The pandemic reaffirmed Casalegno and his team’s commitment to designing products and experiences that begin with a real user need. For instance, during research conversations, people said they craved intuitive ways to connect with their family, friends, and colleagues. They wanted technology that centered around them and their evolving needs. Most of all, they needed their technology to simply work—reliably and effortlessly. “In a moment of crisis people turn their attention to the essentials,” Casalegno said.

Designing products that feel essential requires insights into human behavior. The best technology begins with understanding the motivations behind why humans need technology in the first place. Casalegno believes that most people don’t adopt products based on specs alone. They don’t want a camera—they want a tool to capture and share a moment. They don’t want headphones—they want a way to intimately connect with music and interact with people. “People don’t just buy products. They buy what our products enable,” said Casalegno.

With that in mind, last spring Samsung began to reimagine its approach to video conferencing. People had long used video calls for routine conversations, but their needs quickly became more complex as they lived more of their lives online. The design team started with a deep dive research project into how people used video calling and what they believed was lacking in the experience. “Samsung saw how the entire interface for video could be substantially improved,” Casalegno said. Engaging in more socially complex situations, from a guitar lesson and a birthday party with a dozen friends to a collaborative meeting with colleagues and a telehealth doctor’s visit, became the norm. Samsung realized there was an opportunity to create a new, highly intuitive video conferencing standard that reflects the nuances of human interaction. “We wanted to shift from video conferencing tools designed for limited use towards powering true video conversations that enable communication, socialization, and learning,” said Casalegno.

The newfound flexibility of Samsung’s video conferencing experience centers around a few key features. Instead of tethering a video call to a single device, the designers created a Multi-View capability that allows people to interact with multiple screens simultaneously. Tapping a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, specifically the Galaxy S20 line and the Galaxy Z Flip, to the new QLED TV allows people to watch TV while on a video call. Meanwhile, beginning in May 2021, using the Google Duo app will enable the TV to display up to five people on screen at the same time. And to account for ergonomics, people can attach a USB camera to the TV to activate an auto-focus feature that keeps them in the frame as they move around the room. These initial features, unveiled at First Look 2021, are a step towards Samsung’s vision of a world where anticipatory technology will make lives easier and more enjoyable. “Technology needs to be seamlessly integrated into our lives,” he said. “It should anticipate what we need before we need it.”

Casalegno had already been exploring the idea of building a more frictionless future in the years leading up to the pandemic. In fact, in 2018, he and the UX team embarked on a project to explore how people experience storytelling through photography. Storytelling is at the heart of what Samsung’s technology is designed to encourage. It’s how people understand the world around them; it’s a mechanism for connecting to others and creating shared memories. It was important that the new experience enabled people to spend less time learning how to use a phone camera’s features and more time effortlessly capturing a moment.

The result is the Samsung Galaxy S21, S21+, and S21 Ultra’s latest enhanced Single Take feature, which allows people to shoot multiple modes of image with a single tap of the shutter button. The camera is able to capture video, stills, and automatically apply various effects like a wide-angle shot and a bokeh/blur effect – all while the built-in artificial intelligence identifies the best shots to highlight. Other features on the new camera include Zoom Lock, which locks in on a subject to ensure it stays in focus and sharp while under telephoto zoom, and Director’s View, which allows people to capture videos with both front and rear cameras at the same time. These new features are a means to an end—as the future marches onward, the devices we use to capture memories will inevitably change, but the motivation behind documenting them will remain.

Single Take Feature

Applying those deep insights on human behavior to physical products has happened much faster since the pandemic began. “Moments of crisis have a way of spurring innovation faster than it might otherwise happen. And COVID fast-forwarded the future,” he said. For Casalegno’s team, the pandemic pressed reset on not just what they create, but how they create. It’s been a reminder for designers that the only way to build the future people desire is to put humanity at the center of everything they make. And the only way to predict the future is to design the future we think is good for our societies and for our planet. “Our role as leaders is to make sure that our designers evolve in an environment driven by values and fulfilled with equality and justice, and great hope for all,” he said. “Then they are empowered to design with purpose and with the values they think can truly help humanity.”