According to internal Apple research that was publicized last year, roughly 80% of iPhone owners use cases to protect their devices, and obviously iPod and iPad cases are popular, too. iLounge recently reached out to some of the biggest case designers in the industry to gather their thoughts on various aspects of case design. Here’s part one of our three-part series on the state of Apple case design in 2013.

Apple Case Design in 2013, Part 1: On Protection + Priorities

iLounge: Do you reach a point in case protectiveness when it feels like overkill?

Bryan Hynecek, VP of Design, Speck: It’s not overkill, but there is a real trade-off. You reach a point where you are compromising the daily performance and usability of your device.

Barry Sween, Design Director, Belkin: Well, there is “perception of protection” and there is “actual protection.” Some of our cases actually protect the iPhone for typical real-world experience as well, or better, than bulky so-called “protective” cases in the market today without intruding on a good user experience. That’s where we strive to go. There may be a perception that bulkier is better. But we believe that bulky things are awkward to live with. A case for a slim, elegant device should not make the device chunky and inelegant. We strive to balance protectiveness with functionality in everyday situations; so even a case expressly designed for protection should still be as slim and elegant as possible.

Apple Case Design in 2013, Part 1: On Protection + Priorities

Chris Robinette, Senior VP of Product, Incase: We work to create protective solutions that highlight rather than detract from the form of a device. Even with our SYSTM line, which shows our most protective options, we’ve taken care to upgrade protection by using innovative materials, like Poron XRD foam, to provide added protection with minimal bulk. Clearly, there is a market for hyper-protective products, but we’ll work to meet this market need in our own way.

Steve Bau, Managing Director, SwitchEasy: As our communication devices are getting thinner and more fragile, we believe that there is a greater need of better protection on these products. But our parents always taught us that too much of anything is not good. So we like to create scenarios that help us decide what the level of protectiveness should be applied. This way, we eliminate the use of unneeded design features, the misuse of recourses and excessive use of materials. We believe this results in hitting our targets without overkill.

Jay Jun, Marketing Associate, Spigen: At Spigen, we focus on keeping our cases simple, smart, and sleek. After continuous testing, we discovered a plateau in efficiency when balancing protection and bulk. Although some people might need destruction-proof cases, a majority of consumers do not require that level of protection. We focus on offering protection from everyday accidents because not everyone works at a construction site.

iLounge: What is your most important priority when designing a case?

Speck: During the design process and when we are developing concepts to solve a specific problem, we try hard to poke holes in it. We ask ourselves, if we were another team looking at the same situation would we come up with the same solution? If the answer is yes, we scrap it, start over and keep going until we all agree on a totally unique and clever solution. Speck cases have an element of surprise in them for customers, something they wouldn’t think about or expect. The springy way the kickstand in the SmartFlex View retracts is a great example of this. It’s fun.

Brian Thomas, President and CEO, Otterbox: For OtterBox, it’s a combination of protection and functionality. All of our cases are designed to offer varying levels of protection while still allowing users to experience the device the way it was intended. We have an in-house team of engineers that design all of our cases with these two elements top of mind.


Apple Case Design in 2013, Part 1: On Protection + Priorities

SwitchEasy: Our most important focus for designing cases is to make sure that all the features of the device are fully operational and accessible after our product is installed onto it. The big challenge here is to make sure that all buttons are reachable and that there is no loss in tactile feel of the buttons. Out of experience, we can say that this is a lot harder than it seems and therefore you see many others fail at this. However for us at SwitchEasy, a case will only be introduced to the market when it complies to these conditions: offering protection and the same user experience as if nothing was put on.

Belkin: Smartphones, like the iPhone, have become such an integral part of our daily life experience that people have developed an incredibly personal relationship with it. Designing a great case means to honor that intimate relationship and to find a true balance of function and fashion, as well as being true to the incredible detail that Apple puts into the design of their products. Our primary aim is to create a line of products that will fit the needs of the various users. So, once we have established the intended user, we first need to understand their needs, and predict what they would enjoy living with. Then we go to work to create a case that best works for them. We will look at creating the appropriate level of protection and tune the aesthetic to fit their lifestyles. Because there are so many personalities in the world we offer a wide range of cases to match them with colors and patterns that appeal to a wide variety of tastes. 

Incase: We are always trying to achieve a balance between form and function. At its essence, a case is inherently designed to protect the device it’s attached to, so naturally protection is key. What is unique about Incase is that we bring a very specific design aesthetic that places emphasis on simplicity, intuitive functionality and innovation, which is reflected across the board in our product offering.

Coming tomorrow, part two looks at the role Apple design specifications play in case designs, and part three looks at the decline of the iPod, as well as design innovation, and the future.

Phil Dzikiy

Phil Dzikiy was the Editor-in-Cheif at iLounge. He mostly edited and oversaw all site editorial content, managed staff and freelancers, made the final call on product review grades and awards, and led online coverage of all Apple events and live coverage of the International CES in 2015.