What A Boring Chinese Hardware Giant Wants With An Eccentric French Designer

Huawei hires Mathieu Lehanneur, who has created everything from a 20-sided speaker to an electric tree, as its chief designer. Why?

Mathieu Lehanneur is a brilliant French designer who would admit to seeing the world a bit differently. He’s created a mirror to make you reflect on death, a lamp that resembles the sun breaking through the clouds, an accordion canteen that expands to store extra water, a 20-sided speaker, and an electric tree that brought light to a nightclub.


So it may come as a surprise that the Shenzhen-born telecom manufacturer Huawei–known best for its patents on integral wireless communications chips and producing some relatively boring but popular smartphones–has hired Lehanneur as its chief designer. In the role, Lehanneur will continue to operate his own independent studio in Paris, but at the same time, lead the design of a business that anticipates $56 billion in revenue this year.

“Through the products and devices, I will build the identity and coherency of the brand. My job is to inspire and bring a signature to each branch of the brand’s products. From image to object and from product to shipment,” Lehanneur writes in an email to Co.Design. “Since Huawei is no longer in a startup stage, it will be a long term mission, transforming each patent into a function and each function into a solution.”

Huawei is currently trying to take a larger piece of the premium smartphone market (currently, the company is the fourth largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, period), and it is working on an Apple Watch competitor, too. But Lehanneur is focused on the even bigger play–one what he says will require “time and perseverance” to make Huawei a leader in the “interpersonal revolution”–a post-industrial, post-digital era in which technology morphs into something that’s a bit harder to picture than a single smartphone or a single app. Call it the Internet of Things, or call it our technological infrastructure. Lehanneur wants to secure a foothold in that burgeoning world.

Huawei Ascend Mate2 4G via Huawei

“Technology is no longer just between us. It is with us and on us. It simply needs to be shaped,” Lehanneur writes. “Chairs and objects are no longer enough to satisfy our comfort as complex human beings. Living well begins with the desire to live better and integrates all of our environment’s parameters: the air that we breathe, the food that we eat, the love that we receive . . . All these factors must be taken into account when creating an innovative product.”

As grandiose as Lehanneur’s musings may seem, he’s pointing to a very concrete trend we’re seeing in the technology industry–one where the term “user experience” no longer applies to a single heroic device, but constitutes the seams that sew someone’s entire day together. Google has developed a design language that’s about blurring the boundaries between digital and physical worlds, and reshaping interface for any context. Apple is releasing a smart watch, not necessarily because its executives wanted to release a watch, but because they want Apple to evolve into a company that can be woven into the fabric of your life.

Which is why it’s even more incredible that Lehanneur will be running Huawei’s design while operating his existing studio. “You know, our brains are made with two sides: one of it will be dedicated to Huawei, the other one for the rest of the world,” he writes. “My heart can love many persons at the same time. In the same way, my brain can work for many companies at the same time.”


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.