Designer Nicola Ralston explains why colour is such an important part of Nokia's products and brand identity
There are some tough choices lying ahead for Nokia smartphone fans. Will you be getting the Nokia Lumia 920 or the Nokia Lumia 820? Perhaps, just as difficult, is choosing what colour you want as well.
Colour is something that has always been taken seriously at Nokia. It was the first mobile phone manufacturer to introduce colour into its range and also the first to introduce changeable covers in different colours.
To this day, and especially with the choice on offer with its Lumia range, colour remains an integral part of Nokia’s design approach and brand identity.
The Nokia Lumia 920 will be launched in yellow, red, white, grey, black and, for AT&T in the USA, cyan. If you’re thinking of getting the Nokia Lumia 820, then you can choose from all those, plus purple.
The choice of these colours is a lot more methodical and thought-out than you might think. Nicola Ralston, head of Nokia’s Colours and Materials Design team, gives some context to this colour scheme:
“Nokia’s portfolio in the past grew to be very broad. If you had sat down all the Nokia devices on the table, you would think, ‘where is the brand identity? What’s the key message? Why does silver and black mean business?’ It was all quite mind-boggling driven by a complex consumer segmentation model.”
Focusing on one clear ‘Colour and Material’ palette across the portfolio was an important milestone. Driving plastic polycarbonate as a premium material has also allowed designers to create and develop a colour palette with character and intensity.
“It felt right to strip our palette back considering our design principles of reduction and simplicity. We wanted to reduce colour back to its purest form and for us that is CMYK,” says Nicola, referring to the Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Key (Black) colour-printing model.
“Why CMYK and not RGB? That has a lot to do with Nokia as a brand and the character of the brand. We wanted to project confidence and make an impact and this is best shown through the CMYK route.“
Over the last 18 months, we have seen the fruits of this CMYK approach. First with the Nokia N9 in cyan, then later with the Nokia Lumia 800 and Lumia 900. Yellow on the new Nokia Lumia 920 completes the CMYK line-up.
“Not three different tones of yellow and four different tones of blue. Let’s keep it simple, be super confident, fun and characterful, while also providing choice,” says Nicola.
If there is a downside to offering people a choice of colours is that you’ll never be able to cater to the whim of every individual. This is something that Nicola is well aware of.
“Nokia offers colour; it’s not about one colour. The intent was never to have cyan be recognised as our brand colour, as a new Nokia blue, or anything like that,” she says.
Nicola also says ‘the most beautiful thing’ about CMYK is that you can mix the core colours together to get other ones.
A ‘balance of neutrals’ is also important to Nokia. Hence, on the new Nokia Lumia devices, there is the choice of grey and white.
“We’ve expanded the palette a little from CMYK and we call that our bold blends. Another one of them is red and one is the purple that you see in the Nokia Lumia 820. Will we continue to add more colours? Not at this stage.
“The colours we have at the moment have a beautiful relationship between the form and the material. The success of this strategy is based on that approach, only developing what works best and sticking to it.”
If you read the first part of our interview with Nicola, you will know that colour and material are inseparable from one another. In these devices, the colour is not painted on after the polycarbonate body has been moulded, but it is made in a specific colour from the very beginning of the manufacturing process.
A further dimension to this seamless marriage between colour and material is the topcoat finish that is applied.
“Some colours have got the gloss and some the matt finish,” says Nicola.
“It’s about attention to detail. It really depends upon the character of the colour, the form and the message we are trying to give. Some colours you’ll get the choice of both – and it can portray a completely different character.”
Nokia applies some of its topcoat finishes using a specialist supplier and with methods that are ‘very different to the standard manufacturing techniques’ to achieve the perfect results.
In fact, the quality controls throughout the entire sourcing and manufacturing process are rigorous, detailed and highly specialised. Just making a phone that is yellow – really, really yellow – is a challenging and complicated process.
“It takes a real mastery and understanding of this entire process to work better with it, and produce colour and material at the end that is truly inherent and in no need of paint to make the appearance flawless,” says Nicola.
“As a designer you need to understand the colour process and it starts when that substrate is in its purest form, powder.”
Nicola’s team also works closely with Microsoft to get the right colours on the Windows Phone tiles. So, the yellow Windows Phone tiles will be a different shade of yellow from that of the smartphone.
“We work in terms of colour harmonisation but it is still a really intense crafting process. You are working in a different medium but you still want it be a holistic offering… Digital colour is just as powerful as the physical,” she says.
Nicola’s designers work closely with the screen engineers to ensure that there is consistency between different devices and different screens.
As a final word on colours and materials, Nicola says:
“This is a really important stage in Nokia’s history and we wanted to make our approach to colour the purest that we could. We also wanted to build on our heritage and to make these devices last for a long time – no matter how many times you drop it; we want it to still look true to how you bought it.”
image credit: flickr