Envelope calls a timeout on your relationship with your phone

Special Projects have designed a set of paper covers, called Envelope, which selectively reduce and simplify your phone functions.

Envelope was inspired by the recent trend of products to help people put down their phone. A few other products designed to lock your phone out of reach have been released. Some people solve the dilemma by buying a second phone which has only minimal functionality for those times they need a break.

It encourages people to manage their engagement with the digital world and consider ways technology can integrate wellbeing features. Envelope is very accessible. It is a fun and more temporary option that people can experiment with easily.

The minds behind Envelope – Special Projects

Special Projects is headed by creative director and industrial designer Clara Gaggero Westaway and experience designer and magician Adrian Westaway. Both graduated with a Masters in Industrial Design Engineering from the Royal College of Art in 2007, and have been recipients of numerous design awards.

Special Projects is a self-described ‘design and invention consultancy’ based in London. Their work includes projects in industrial design as well as interaction and experience design. And, they enjoy blurring the boundaries.

envelope phone

The studio takes a very human-centered approach to design. It is rigorous and research-driven. They have a history of working with mobile technology and developing apps that promote new interactions. Clients include the BBC and Samsung.

In NFC Cards, magic cards were designed to help the elderly overcome the unfamiliar and learn the confidence to explore their phones.

Special Projects also produced some delightful tongue in cheek manuals in the style of flat-packed furniture instructions booklets. Called Missing Pages, they guide to increase intimacy and look after those around you.

Materials and techniques – Provide your own

Envelope gives you two options.  Pop your phone into an envelope which just allows you to make and receive calls. Or, pick the second envelope which only lets you take photos and videos. You won’t be able to see images on the screen though.

The envelopes work in conjunction with an Android app you install on your device.  To use Envelope you are initially directed to a PDF file to download. The page provides a reassuring reminder of why you are using the product, and instructions on how to make the envelope. You will need to print the page yourself. They suggest using 80gsm paper.

Yes, you must also cut out and glue the little paper pocket together. This might be a calming or frustrating experience depending on your relationship with hands-on crafting.


Style & aesthetics – Minimal with a soft glow

A phone covered in semi-transparent paper creates a very particular aesthetic. The app lights up the buttons you press. But, everything is softened. You just get a faint glow, which is a distinct contrast to the bright and crisp displays we face every day. 

In case you are wondering—yes, your phone’s touch screen still works with the paper cover.

Envelope is a digital wellbeing experiment

This project was developed and shared as part of the Google Digital Wellbeing Experiments. These experiments are aimed at finding a balance with technology and are a perfect fit for the concerns of Special Projects.

Perhaps it is not so surprising that the only phone that is supported so far is the Google Pixel 3a. Special Projects also submitted another experiment called Paper Phone.

Envelope - use

Design memento – Add wonder to the everyday

Magic is an art of distraction, misdirection and wonder. Descriptions that fit well to talk about this project. Our everyday relationship with our phone is not simply halted, it is redefined. What is natural and automatic behavior is now heightened, as it is simplified. A touch of wonder is added.

We are somehow distracted from our distracting phone by a new way of engaging with it. We are directed to an activity of hands on making and a new tactile experience.

As our usual social media, email and apps are unavailable, they are replaced by the new game of willpower.

Envelope - photo intereraction

The writer’s comment – A playful experiment which might grow

Envelope certainly has novelty value. As an intervention that makes you more aware of your own behavior, it is very intriguing.

The Digital Wellbeing Experiments page suggests that an experiment, “can be used for a day, a week, or however long is helpful.” One day might be enough for us to reset some habits.

And, the idea may spread. The code is available on Github, so there is scope for further iterations to emerge. With any luck, versions for a wider range of phones will pop up soon.


Open full width

Send this to a friend