Look throughout Nokia’s current mobile phone range, and it’s obvious that all the devices come from one family. There are plenty of features that tie them together, but it’s the design of the handsets that really gives it away.
From the most affordable product – the Nokia 105 – to the latest Nokia Asha 501, right up to the Nokia Lumia 920 – all of Nokia’s phones feature common design goals. We’ve been talking to Peter Griffith, from Nokia Design, to find out exactly what goes into the design of a Nokia phone.
“We talk about three things that are key to our design approach,” adds Peter. “Purity, colour and craft. Purity is evident in both the Lumia and Asha products. It’s about designing less rather than more, and it’s very difficult to achieve.”
“We start with a clear sense of material and what can be done, and then work from there. It’s like designing from the inside out; we want to understand how the device is going to be built, what components are going inside there, how many of those components need to come through to the outside, that’s our approach.”
This simplicity runs through all of Nokia’s devices, and the sheer attention to detail is easy to see on Nokia’s latest handset. “All the parts on the Nokia Asha 501 are very symmetrical, carefully laid out,” says Peter.
“A great deal of effort goes into designing where all the connector holes appear, and grouping them together to keep the device as clean as possible. We put a lot of effort into the position of the camera – we wanted it to be absolutely central and symmetrical on the back of the device. We also integrated the speaker and the battery release into one detail.”
“We think of design as a form of product making,” explains Peter. “What we do isn’t about styling: it’s about product making, and because of that we’re really inspired about working with mechanical engineers and understanding production processes.”
“The conventional way of building at this price point is kind of a sandwich construction. You’ll have the display window, then a moulded cover, then another moulding, and then a back cover, and you get a lot of part lines. We wanted to build this in a different way, where the back cover comes right round the sides, and you get rid of a lot of the seamlines. That gives it a clean and fresh look, but it’s also more practical, it’s a better way of building the device.”
“It requires thinking about what we can simplify. Everything that’s left needs to be as perfect as can be. It’s also a very craft-focused approach to design.”
Peter explains that Nokia also spends a lot of time and effort working on different ways to use colour: “With the Lumia range, the way the colour is integrated into the materials of the main mono-body really gets down to the science of pigmentation. We started from a position of wanting to use the resin itself as the colour medium, and there was an awful lot of work between teams to understand how we could pigment the resin.”
“With the latest Nokia Asha 501, and the phones launched at Mobile World Congress, the Nokia 105 and the Nokia 301, we see a continuation of the approach that’s been taken from Lumia through into mobile phones. It represents an incredible price range from the Lumia 920 down into the Nokia 105, and they’re carrying the same colour right the way through.”
A bigger challenge
“We take a lot of pride in addressing the most affordable devices,” Peter says. “Designing affordable devices is a really great design challenge; we can’t just use a materials budget to make it look intriguing. We have to bring imagination to the design process. We have to be very innovative. It’s slightly different in the higher end, where we can push the way a device is constructed.
“Designing a monoblock candybar phone is a good example. At Nokia we’ve done so many, it feels like every shape and material has been tried at some point. In devices like the Nokia 206, I think the team has achieved something that really does refresh this form factor. It looks very beautiful, and it’s clearly part of the Nokia family. It’s the first time we’ve seen this sort of design approach in the feature phone market.”
As for the current range of Nokia phones, Peter is more than a little proud of what Nokia has achieved: “The industrial design goes hand-in-hand with the brand and identity of Nokia. I think that’s reflected in the design. I think the current crop of phones – devices like the Nokia Asha 501, Nokia 301 and Nokia 105 – is the best stuff we’ve ever done.”