Nokia designers tell Conversations they go to extremes to get the perfect pigment
GLOBAL – The designers behind the white Nokia N9 and Lumia 800 agree that they are colour obsessives: “Of course we are,” says Grace Boicel, who is Head of Smart Devices Colours Materials and Design at Nokia Design. “We’re passionate about perfecting and mastering.”
Colour and material designer Tiina Aarras interjects: “We’re passionate about materials, colours and finishes. Those three elements have to work together.”
The new white Nokia Lumia 800 is the first with a high gloss finish – something that resulted from perfecting a pure white polycarbonate body: “Pure white is very, very difficult to achieve,” says Aarras.
“We had to try hundreds of white pigments to achieve the right colour and opaqueness.”
What distinguishes the white Nokia Lumia is that it’s white right through – a process that involves working with the best dye houses in the world to source a perfect pigment, and then stir it into the polycarbonate liquid to make a mould.
“I’ve seen the process,” says Aarras, “It is really beautiful to see the mixing of the polycarbonate liquid. Nothing could emphasise more that we’re not creating a paint, but a colour that’s completely integral to the product.”
The concept of a white phone evolved from the identity of the N9 and Lumia series. Aarras was inspired by the CMYK colour group used in printing. What makes the crispness of printing colours stand out is the whiteness of the paper.
“The story of the Nokia Lumia is one of reduction and purity,” she says. “White is the ultimate colour of reduction. It’s also perfect for emphasising the black polished screen. If you stand a white Lumia 800 on a table the body almost disappears, and the black screen seems to lift up and float.”
Making that happen has taken two years of endless trial and crafting.
Grace Boicel adds: “We had to do a lot of testing looking at the reaction of the white pigments to light. It’s very hard to get a pure white that doesn’t look yellow.”
Opacity was another big challenge, according to Tiina Aarras: “The colour and body has to be fully opaque, it can’t be transparent so that you see the workings of the phone.”
The exact ingredients, and making, of the white Lumia 800 is, of course, a closely guarded secret – but Boicel and Aarras do say that they worked through hundreds of variations. A phone is not just a design icon, but something that is used and handled dozens of times a day. In layman’s terms – it gets dirty.
“White reveals everything,” says Boicel. “When you are making a white phone it will show any small piece of dirt, any defect in the polycarbonate. Anything that interrupts the smooth flow of the finish.”
The high gloss finish is successful because it emphasises the pure white character of the phone, and is “extra durable and easy to maintain,” according to Aarras.
“This is extreme product making,” says Grace Boicel, “We’ve taken colour back to its purest form, and it’s a science to find the perfect colour, finish and form – without compromise. We have to perfect it and master it. We had to master white.”
Of all colours white is perhaps the most pure, profound and definite. And if you get your white Lumia 800 dirty – you can just wipe it clean.
Photos by Leo Acker