One of the drawbacks about living in a world and culture that celebrates consumerism is the overwhelming number of choices we're invariably confronted with. Even the simple act of buying toothpaste -- which brand, which flavour, organic, or fluoride-free? -- quickly becomes an exercise in retail existentialism.
This explains why we are so enthusiastic about the Æ+Y, a new handcrafted mobile phone created by Yves Béhar with Danish company, Æsir. The phone is revolutionary not in what it does, but rather in what it doesn't. Eschewing the confusing repertoire of bells and whistles that plagues other mobiles on the market, the Æ+Y is, proudly, a phone that just makes and receives calls, and texts. And nothing else.
Æsir is banking that this will be a phone that we'll love, cherish and never upgrade.
But beyond the merits of a phone that has such startlingly limited functions, what's particularly heartening is that, in an age so obsessed with the next product model, Æsir dares to take a provocative stand to champion craftsmanship that lasts.
To parallel the physical production of the Æ+Y, the company has decided to explore this stand, on a deeper philosophical level, through a freeform periodic publication. The first effort -- the Tænker 001 -- brought together a diverse group of design writers, cultural editors, gallery curators and architecture critics to talk about values and creativity in a world that gives such ideals short shrift.
Suki Larson, the project editor and managing director of Keep (the agency that's also in charge of the iconography and collateral of the Æ+Y) says that some of the ideas that came out of the discussion were 'very relevant to Æsir -- [particularly] the role of expertise, the role of collaboration and the role of depth.'
These ideas were eventually turned into a design manifesto and then handed over to graphic designer Tom Hingston, commissioned by Keep to develop Tænker 001 (the word is the Danish verb for 'I am thinking') as a limited edition of 100 copies.
From the outset, the challenge was for the printing process to reflect the ideals of the text and its notion of craftsmanship. And so, Hingston worked closely with the lithographic print workshop Galerie Edition Copenhagen using traditional printing techniques that date back to the 18th-century.
To emphasize the hand-made nature of the project, the printers -- led by master printer Rasmus Urwald -- used a large slab of 150m year old stone as the printing base. The stable porosity of the stone meant that the final prints, some of which are layered with as many as twelve colours, achieve a finish that looks hand-painted.
More crucially, what would normally have taken a day to produce took two weeks, but in this time-consuming labour of love, Hingston discovered how enriching it can be to work with people who 'really understand colour and the harmony and the poetry that one can establish with colour.'
Hingston says future editions of Tænker will be produced as and when Æsir sees fit. 'It won't necessarily coincide with the production of a phone,' he says, which is why he insisted the first edition used a graphic and design approach that stands firmly on its own artistic merit and whose iconography is not linked in any way to the Æ+Y. 'The next editions have no fixed format or identity. Tænker 001 is a bound volume, but the next one we do might even be a CD of musicians on a 3-inch square.'