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Best practice industrial and user experience design – Nokia and Microsoft

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Major updates: Marko Ahtisaari: smartphone evolution is only just beginning [The Guardian, Jan 31, 2012]

“There’s a point of view about design that all innovation in the interaction with the phone has been done,” Ahtisaari says. “Nothing could be further from the truth. The phase we’re in now is like the 1880s in the car industry. Back then, cars had tillers – you would steer them like boats, with a wheel at the back. It took 15 years to settle on the steering wheel at the front controlling the front wheels. And we’re in the middle of that part of the evolution of interaction.”

“Look at iOS. Multiple pages of apps, and folder, with a physical home key. It’s very elegant; it was a great innovation five years ago. But the core interaction hasn’t evolved much. It’s simple but constant. It’s like a house where you know that you can always get to the kitchen from the living room – but you have to go through the front door.”He adds quickly, “OK, so there’s been some changes. Now you can get there if you skip on one leg” – referring to the double tap’ introduced by Apple in iOS 4 for fast switching between apps via a “drawer” at the bottom of the screen. “The other model, of Android and Symbian, is multiple, personalisable home screens with widgets. There’s some fragmentation in button layouts where different devices have them in different ways. The hope is that having personalisable screens is so organic that you end up using it via the home screen.”
In the past year we have seen a different way to do it – Live Tiles [as used in Microsoft’s Windows Phone interface] – they’re abstractions of data, a panoramic view of your data. It’s a different approach – ‘glanceability’, such as in the People Hub.” He explains that “our goal in the studio is to design so that people can have their head up again. Touchscreen designs are often immersive; we’ll often see couples in a restaurant pinching and zooming, but not interacting with each other. And there’s a trend of having smaller and smaller targets on screen so you have to get closer and closer. If we can make the interfaces more direct, so you can have your head up again – this is something that, while it would never come up in a focus group, is deeply appreciated by people, because the most important things are happening not only in the vessel of your phone, but also with the people and the environment around you.”

That element of “glance-and-go” is one that has been emphasised by Microsoft, and now Nokia too.

His theme is that we shouldn’t think that iOS or Android (or Symbian) has ended user-interface evolution. The sun’s just coming up on that. “I think there will be more diversity in user interfaces rather than less. In automotive, you need to have some standardisation for safety reasons – you can’t have wheels in some and tillers in others. So you want a standard, or standards.” That doesn’t apply in phones: “Here, they will be more diversity in user interface because you can design more ways to use a phone. Some people would say that the iPhone is the new generic form. My point is more about competitive diversity. What’s really important is that this isn’t styling.” He becomes emphatic. “This aesthetic come from the way that we build the product.”

[More on that: Nokia to enter design pattern competition for 2011 smartphones with MeeGo [Dec 9, 2010]]

Nokia appoints Marko Ahtisaari to Nokia Leadership Team [Jan 26, 2012]

Nokia today announced that Marko Ahtisaari has been appointed Executive Vice President, Design, and a member of the Nokia Leadership Team, effective February 1, 2012. He reports directly to President and CEO Stephen Elop.

Ahtisaari will continue to lead the Nokia design team, responsible for the industrial design and user experience design of all Nokia products. He has led the team since 2009 during which time Nokia Design has created critically acclaimed products such as the Nokia N9, the Nokia Lumia 800 and the Nokia Lumia 900.

Previously, Ahtisaari was an entrepreneur, as CEO and co-founder of Dopplr, a social network for international travelers, and Head of Brand and Design at Blyk, an advertising-funded mobile network. Prior to this he was Director of Design Strategy at Nokia, and held roles in corporate strategy and venturing. Ahtisaari was also a Fellow of the Faculty and lecturer at the Graduate School of Arts and Science at Columbia University, and a composer and professional musician. He serves on the Board of Directors of Artek and WITNESS.

“One of the key differentiators of Nokia is the elegant and head-turning design of our products,” said Stephen Elop, president and CEO of Nokia. “As we have charted our new course, Marko Ahtisaari has ensured that we elevate the importance of distinctive design, which is evident in the industry’s response to our award-winning Lumia and Asha products. By appointing Marko to the Nokia Leadership Team, we believe his influence will ensure that design leadership becomes part of everything we make and also everything we do.”

End of major updates

A week ago (Dec. 9) Nokia elevated to the company level the design and innovation synergy with Microsoft which is promising to change consumer IT for the years ahead. In fact the change could be far more spectacular than the previous one by Apple in the last decade or so. Windows Phone 7 is just the beginning as design unification throughout Microsoft has been started two years ago. Considering that Windows Phone 7 won the equivalent of an Oscar by the professional designer community just a few months ago (unfortunately a little known fact), and that Nokia got a very high acclaim for its N9 and Lumia 800 industrial designs (both from the professional designers and the consumer audience), such a synergy could indeed deliver spectular results in the future (as Nokia is also going to enter the Windows 8 tablet business). Below you will find all the current information about the best industrial and user experience design practices of both companies.

An unlikely meeting of minds [“Design & Innovation” page of “About Nokia”/”Our Company”, Dec 9, 2011]

When Nokia and Microsoft designed the Nokia Lumia 800, there was no clash of cultures – more a shared vision based on purity and simplicity.

Sometimes pairing two unlikely things produces unexpected results. When Nokia and Microsoft began designing their first phone together, they were surprised to discover they had much in common. From its light form and smooth body to its uncluttered interface, the Nokia Lumia 800 embodies a shared belief in keeping things simple and pushing the boundaries of conventional design.

Two halves of one mind

In order of appearance: Axel Meyer, Head of Industrial Design – Nokia (N9 & Lumia 800); Anton Fahlgren, Principal Industrial Designer – Nokia (N9 & Lumia 800); Nicolás Lylyk, Senior Industrial Design Specialist – Nokia (N9 & Lumia 800); Mika Nenonen, Senior Industrial Design Specialist – Nokia (N9 & Lumia 800); Jeff Fong, Principal User Experience Design Lead, Microsoft; Amy Alberts, Senior Design Researcher Lead, Microsoft; Michael Smuga, Studio Manager, Microsoft.

The Metro Design Language, the inspiration (Part 1) [Jeff Fong on Windows Phone Design Day, Summer 2010]

Jeff Fong, the Design lead for Windows Phone kicks-off Windows Phone design day with his overview of Metro.

The Metro Design Language, the inspiration (Part 2) [Jeff Fong on Windows Phone Design Day, Summer 2010]

Original video (for both YouTube ones embedded here) from: http://channel9.msdn.com/Blogs/Jaime+Rodriguez/Windows-Phone-Design-Days-Metro

If interested in other subjects as well see:
Windows Phone Design Day Recordings [Aug 13, 2010]

Nokia Lumia 800. The designer’s story. (From Anton-Olof Fahlgren) [Oct 25, 2011]

An insider’s view on the design principles for the new Nokia Lumia 800 with Anton-Olof Fahlgren, the Principal Industrial Designer in Axel Meyer’s team.

Nokia World 2011 Panel Discussion: Designing smarter phones [Nov 8, 2011]

Panel Discussion at Nokia World 2011: http://events.nokia.com/nokiaworld/ titled “Designing smarter phones” with Marko Ahtisaari from Nokia and Albert Shum from Microsoft

See the detailed elaboration of that (with a lot of included text) in a separate post on this blog: Designing smarter phones–Marko Ahtisaari (Nokia) and Albert Shum (Microsoft) [Nov 23, 2011]

Steve Kaneko – Microsoft design unification [TheVerge , Dec 15, 2011]

Joshua Topolsky and Steve Kaneko discuss the unification of Microsoft design among several product families. WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW AT THE VERY END OF THIS POST WITH A BRIEF ARTICLE FROM THE VERGE AS WELL.

[2:09] … It was about two years ago that I recall an event where we, as some of design directors in charge of different divisions, … we called it LTE, leadership teams, went offsite for a day and a half, and we have actually stepped back for the first time, put up all the work using screenshots, hard copies, not visual shots, and we filled the wall twenty feet long, top and bottom, and tried to parse … let’s call it information work for consumer. Really took a look from server and tools all the way with what’s going on, in some cases what’s happening at MSR with Windows, Xbox at the time, Zune, and start to look for commonality amongst all this. And you know we saw an awful lot of it. We were very disappointed what we were seeing as well.  … [2:55]

[a summary of the is from The Verge brief article:] He says that “as designers, we knew way before we actually executed that we did have a mixed message to consumers,” and that the Microsoft brand was fragmented because of an inconsistent design language. Now, he says that Microsoft’s design community feels more confident, and that “we’re not looking over our shoulders as much as we used to.” (Presumably because designers may have been wary of skeptical Microsoft executives.)

Technology Preview: Windows Phone and Kinect for XBox 360 [Broll by Microsoft, Feb 13, 2011]

A technology preview from Microsoft Games Studios showing the connection of Windows Phone 7 and Kinect for XBox 360

Xbox already got a new Metro style user experience this month (BTW Steve Kaneko was User Experience Director of the Entertainment and Devices Division till summer of 2011): The Future of Living Room Entertainment [Broll by Microsoft, Dec 6, 2011]

Footage of the new features and services available in the Dec. 6 update for Xbox 360, including voice recognition, Bing integration, new dashboard interface, TV & movie apps and more.

See the detailed elaboration of that (with a lot of included text) in a separate post on this blog: The future of TV via a new Metro-styled Xbox 360 dashboard plus a plethora of new content partners [Dec 7, 2011]

And finally (also most importantly) the upcoming Windows 8 is showing great design unification as well:

Microsoft’s Windows 8 Comes Alive with Fast and Fluid New UI [WindowsVideos, Sept 13, 2011]

Julie Larson-Green, Corporate Vice President Windows Experience at Microsoft, unveiled a fast and fluid new user interface for the upcoming Windows 8 at the company’s Build conference earlier today in Anaheim. Larson-Green previewed the new “Metro style” UI including the Start screen.

Windows 8 Metro Style Communications Apps [windowslive, Sept 13, 2011]

Get the first look at the Metro style communications apps in Windows 8, including Photos, Mail, People, Calendar, and Messaging.

IDSA Unveils Best in Shows at IDEA Ceremony [IDSA press release, Sept 24, 2011]


Bespoke, Boeing and Microsoft Capture Top Honors for Design Excellence

On Sept. 17, the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) unveiled the Best in Shows for the 2011 International Design Excellence Awards® (IDEA) at its annual international conference in New Orleans. Bespoke Fairings, Boeing Dreamliner 787 and Windows Phone 7 each claimed a Best in Shownod.

Designed by Scott Summit and Chris Campbell of Bespoke Innovations, Bespoke Fairings is an assembly of up to 30 manufactured pieces that restores symmetry and natural contours to an amputee’s body. The process starts with a 3-D scan of the surviving leg. With input from the amputee, the parts are customized from an assortment of colors, materials and finish options. Once applied to existing prosthetic limbs, the fairing communicates the users’ sense of style and taste, allowing them to connect with the artificial limb in a personal and emotional way.

Designed by The Boeing Co. design team and Teague’s design team, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner features an expansive inner architecture as well as dynamic LED lighting that replicates day-to-night light patterns, dimmable windows 65 percent larger than other airplanes and larger stow bins. It has been one of the most successful commercial airplane launches with more than 800 orders valued at $164 billion.

Designed by Microsoft’s Windows phone design team, the Windows Phone 7 brings a new experience to the smartphone market, one that connects with end users and makes the phone a recognizable brand that users take interest in. The designers sought a better user experience, one that revolves around who the users are rather than what they do.

“While vastly different products, all three of this year’s Best in Show designs excelled in improving the human experience with a technology product,” said IDSA’s CEO Clive Roux. “The Windows 7 Phone improves on the iPhone interface; the Boeing 787 improves the experience of flying through a combination of larger windows, improved cabin pressure stability and careful attention to lighting to ease transitions between time zones. The Bespoke Fairing speaks for itself. It humanizes and adds sensitivity to a prosthetic unlike any I’ve seen before.”

“The three Best in Shows demonstrated that great design begins and ends with a deep understanding of people’s innermost needs and desires with a responsibility to society,” said Smart Design’s CEO Davin Stowell. “When designers are successful at this, it creates tremendous economic value and makes life and the world a better place.”

In addition to winning a Best in Show, Windows Phone 7 took home the People’s Choice Award. The Hydropack Self-Hydrating Drink Pouch received the Curator’s Choice Award, which was given by The Henry Ford.

Put people first with Windows Phone 7.5 [windowsphone , Aug 29, 2011]

Windows Phone 7.5 makes it easier to connect and share with the people who matter most. Check out the People Hub, Groups and Threads. With Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter built in to your smartphone, Windows Phone the next release of Windows Phone delivers truly modern communications.

Joe Belfiore shows off Windows Phone Mango [May 23, 2011]

Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Windows Phone responsible for product definition & design, shows off some of the new features coming to Windows Phone Mango.

The Industrial Designers Society of America Reveals Hottest Designs [IDSA press release, June 30, 2011]:

[the press release text comes after the Windows Phone awards inserted here from elsewhere]

Gold in the Interactive Product Experience category

Windows Phone 7

The Windows Phone 7 was built around the idea that the end user is king. The design team began by defining and understanding the people who would use this phone. It was convinced that there could be a better user experience for a phone, one that revolves more around who the users arerather than what they do. The Windows Phone 7 lets users quickly get in, get out and back to their lives.

“The innovation here is the fluidity of experience and focus on the data, without using tradition user interface conventions of windows and frames.  Data becomes the visual elements and controls. Simple gestures and transitions guide the user deeper into content. A truly elegant and unique experience.”  – Isabel Ancona, User Experience Consultant

Credit: Windows Phone Design Team

Silver in the Research category

Windows Phone 7

One of the core approaches in the development of the Windows Phone 7 was to evaluate the product at all stages of development. From concept to code, the design team measured the efficacy of the designs and users’ emotional response to them. Using a traditional scorecard approach, the results helped generate new designs for future milestones and kept the team grounded around designs that were resonating with users.

Credits: Rive Citron, Donna Flynn, Tracy Lovejoy, Amy Alberts, Steve Herbst, CMG Research of Microsoft

Bronze in the Design Strategy category

Windows Phone 7

The design goals for the Windows Phone 7 were to bring a radically new experience to the smartphone market, one that connects with end users, and to make the phone a recognizable brand that users are interested in. The designers sought a better user experience, one that revolves around who the users are rather than what they do.

Credits: Jeff Fong, Bill Flora, Jae Pum Park, Jeff Arnold, Greg Melander, Joe Belfiore, Ryan Bickel, Alfred Astort, Kat Holmes, Albert Shum, Mike Guss, Mark Gibson, Lori Kratzer of Microsoft

[here is the press release text]
The Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) unveiled the winners of the 2011 International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA®) program—a celebration of design excellence in products, sustainability, interaction design, packaging, strategy, research and concepts. This year the competition received a record amount of entries breaking the 2,000 mark since it began 31 years ago. Out of 524 finalists, 27 were honored with the Gold Award, while 68 received the Silver Award and 96 won the Bronze Award.

The top corporate winners were Samsung of South Korea and Microsoft claiming sevenawards and Belkin and GE Healthcare claiming three.

“The IDEA program is considered by many as the ‘Oscars’ of design competitions because the judging process is rigorous and judged by the experts in their field,” said IDSA’s CEO Clive Roux. “This year our Best in Show award reveals another powerful story about the growing link between design and responsibility.”

“The rigor of selecting the best of over 2,000 entries culminated in three days of intense dialogue and debate that was stimulating and rewarding for the 20 expert jurors—we are proud of the work we have chosen to represent the best from our profession,” said IDEA’s Jury Chair Davin Stowell, founder and CEO of Smart Design.

The 2011 IDEA jury, made up of 20 international design experts coming from design consultancies, corporations and universities, spent weeks previewing entries online and two-and-a-half days of face-to-face evaluation and debate at The Henry Ford. Judging criteria focused on eight areas of industrial design excellence: innovation; benefit to the user; benefit to society; benefit to the client; visual appeal and appropriate aesthetics; usability, emotional factors and unmet needs for the design research category; and internal factors, methods, strategic value and implementation for the design strategy category.

The awards were chosen from the following industry and design categories: commercial and industrial products, communication tools, computer equipment, design strategy, entertainment, environments, home living, interactive product experiences, leisure and recreation, medical and scientific products, office and productivity, packaging and graphics, personal accessories, research, service design, student designs and transportation. Entries came from 39 countries, including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Botswana, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, United Kingdom and the United States.

For detailed descriptions, photos and contact information on this year’s IDEA winners, visit http://www.idsa.org/idea-2011-gallery.

About IDEA

Started in 1980 by IDSA, the International Design Excellence Awards program (IDEA®) fosters business and public understanding about the impact of design excellence on the quality of life and the economy. The IDEA program is considered one of the most preeminent design competitions in the nation with its scope and influence reaching far beyond U.S. boundaries.

About IDSA

Founded in 1965, the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) is one of the world’s oldest, largest, member-driven societies for product design, industrial design, interaction design, human factors, ergonomics, design research, design management, universal design and related design fields. IDSA produces the renowned International Design Excellence Award® (IDEA) competition annually; hosts the International Design Conference and five regional conferences each year; and publishes Innovation, a quarterly journal on design, and designBytes, a weekly e-newsletter highlighting the latest headlines in the design world. IDSA’s charitable arm, the Design Foundation, supports the dissemination of undergraduate scholarships annually to further industrial design education. The organization has more than 3,000 members in 27 chapters in the U.S. and internationally. For more information, visit http://www.idsa.org.

Note about the other 4 Microsoft IDEA 2011 awards: Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse got the Gold in the Computer Equipment category, Technology Heirlooms got the Silver in the Research category as well, and although no longer with Microsoft, the design work around KIN was recognized as well:  KIN Packaging and Quick Start Guide Graphics got the Silver in the Packaging category and KIN One the Bronze in the Communication category.

Additional information

Nokia N9: the designer’s story (interview with the Nokia N9′s lead designer, Anton Fahlgren) [Conversations by Nokia, June 22, 2011]

I love sitting down with Nokia’s designers. There’s not one square millimetre of each phone that doesn’t get refined and revised a hundred times. They always have a mind-blowing story to tell about each aspect of the design. It’s never, “We chose blue cause that would be cool”; it’s always like, “We chose cyan, not blue, because the design is pure, so colours need to be pure, and…” at which point, my head explodes. I sat down with the Nokia N9′s lead designer, Anton Fahlgren, for a chat about his epic two-year project…

How did the Nokia N9 begin?

I headed up a team in Copenhagen during the summer of 2009, and that’s where it began. The brief was to evolve the story from the previous Nokia Nseries/Eseries devices, and define it moving forward. We chose to work with an Nseries product as it was interesting times at Nokia – things were bumpy in the high-end market. Extreme numbers on a spec sheet was not the way to win. We knew we needed innovation at every level.

I’ve had the option to do this before, but those occasions didn’t feel so very exciting: here we had a blank canvas. I wanted to define what high-end means today and take a more software-driven approach, and show people it’s not just the hardware that makes a great phone: it’s the UI and platform and how it all works together.

Did you know you’d be creating for something other than Symbian?

The MeeGo stuff had started bubbling, but we hadn’t seen it. We tried to simplify and distil the existing story, because there was a lot of good in the work that was done. That was the starting point – no compromises. We tried different styles; we did a range of devices like slide-and-tilt; we did a couple different sizes, but they were all based on the same design family. But the one that made it to the market was the Nokia N9.

What makes the Nokia N9 unique?

Above all, it’s the continuity that you feel from the shape of the glass continuing to the side profile. It just feels right. The basic concept is that seamless continuity of the form, and I think it was something we refined with the UI. It’s just something nice about interacting with a device that has a gentle curvature. Once you have something that’s more continuous in your hand, it’s just more pleasant to interact with it, all the way to the edges. Try to swipe stuff on other phones, and you’ll soon see that the edges will bother you.

When you see it in three dimensions, there’s not a single straight surface on the product. It’s actually really difficult to model in CAD. It’s almost like a pillow. In concept, a pillow is a simple form. It’s not hard to understand. But if you have to build those surfaces on a computer, you’ll realize how complicated they are. So the concept is simple, but as a piece of geometry, it’s quite elaborate.

No buttons! Just swipe!

Once you’ve got a flavour of life without buttons, it’s hard to go back. I find myself with other devices trying to swipe, but I can’t. Phones with keys feel old now, in some respects.

What’s so cool about a uni-body design?

No designer likes split lines. Split lines mean imperfection, parts and colours that may not match perfectly. It feels bad. It’s noise. You don’t want that. At the same time, most designers like metals. The Nokia N9 has many antennas, and that meant we knew we could never do a metal device. If you use plastic, the antennas would work better. But that leads to other challenges. Consumers may perceive plastic as of lower value than metal. But plastic is transparent to radio waves, metal is not.

The one piece polycarbonate plastic allows for really great antennas but it also feels expensive in the hand. You need great performance from your antennas, of course, for fast download speeds and quick connections with satellites. So it’s all about a good user experience from that point of view. The challenge was that when creating something that feels like high-end quality design with plastic, the material alone won’t carry that story.

It’s great to see another smartphone with colour, not just a “black rectangle”.

We started off looking at a plastic bar without paint, it gives us a chance to almost think in any colour we would like – eventually, it came back to essentially the basic colours. Cyan, magenta, black.

Plastic is all about offering colours. So we really wanted colours where people could express themselves. Brown and grey is almost an excuse for a colour with plastic. If you’re going to offer a colour, offer a real colour.

Last question, how would you like consumers to feel when they first pick up a Nokia N9?

That’s a good question. What’s important for us is that if this becomes a hardware story, we’ve failed. It needs to be in context with the UI. I hope the first point of delight will be about the interface, the button-less navigation. I hope it’s not only about the hardware design. The idea was to create a canvas for the UI and the user to shine. When you watch TV, you don’t want a frame, you just want the content.

Here’s Nokia’s Marko Ahtisaari, SVP Design and User Experience, announcing the Nokia N9 and talking about the design.

The Nokia N9 Announcement by Marko Ahtisaari at Nokia Connection 2011 [NokiaConversations, June 22, 2011]

In this video, Marko Ahtisaari, Nokia’s SVP of Design (responsible for user experience and industrial design), announces Nokia N9 http://nokia.ly/iGrtvJ. It only takes a swipe to get to what you want with the Nokia N9, and it all floats beautifully on the large, curved display. Stay in touch with people, news and events. And browse the web. Quickly. Get around with free maps and navigation. And take great pictures with the 8MP camera. The Nokia N9 makes it all smooth, effortless and gorgeously stylish. Learn more about the new Nokia N9, visit: http://nokia.ly/jUnOCP Nokia Connection 2011 is an annual event held in conjunction with CommunicAsia 2011. The event is an exciting platform for Nokia to showcase the latest and newest devices and services to customers, operators, media and analysts from the region: http://bit.ly/NokiaCnxn

Axel Meyer introducing Nokia N9 [Sept 25, 2011]

Axel Meyer is the Head of Industrial Design at Nokia and tells us in this video why he loves the N9.

Inside design – The Nokia N9 [Nokia N-Series post, July 7, 2011] it is not available at the Nokia Connects anymore (but you could see a copy on Dion Guillaume’s blog started April 15, 2011 or on the Symbian Freak)

The Nokia N9 is the world’s hottest new smartphone. And so, to find out where this beautiful creation came from, we caught up with Axel Meyer – Head of Industrial Design at Nokia. Axel has the enviable task of managing one of the world’s leading design teams – Anton Fahlgren, Nicolás Lylyk, Mika Nenonen and Tiina Aarras (Colours & Materials) – on the daily task of producing the ultimate smartphone.

Hi Axel. When setting out to design the Nokia N9 what did the team have in mind?

We really wanted to design a product that would be more natural when people communicated, simplifying the way they touch and navigate
through the phone. But designing to make things simple can be and is complicated.

We started by designing inside-out. The inside of the phone is like the architecture of a building – it’s the stability and core. For example, decisions have to be made about the number of antennae used, where each individual component sits and how the body fits seamlessly around them.

For us, Nokia N9 had to be the balance of making something that not only looked beautiful, but was executed perfectly at every stage.

There’s been a lot of attention given to the unibody design of Nokia N9. Can you give us more insight into the inspiration for this approach?

Sure… The magic of a material like plastic is that it’s extremely connectivity-friendly, so we started to explore the possibilities of that. We focused on engineering this material in an unbelievable way.

The polycarbonate body of the N9 is injection-moulded, but all of the openings are machined. This allows the curved-glass screen to sit perfectly
flush in the body. There is no edge. And that gives the seamless swipe interaction we wanted to achieve. It needed to be an unobtrusive
experience without buttons or complicated gestures.

And the beauty of the product is clearly a chief reason for this design too?

Absolutely. My team found a way of evolving what had gone before into developing something pure. Nokia N9 is a design that is fluid and organic. We wanted to make it look like a pillow – soft and inviting. You want to hold it. It’s natural for it to sit in your palm and for you to swipe.

And we didn’t want to follow trends in design either. We wanted to make something that could be timeless by not relying on a button for this or
an opening for that. And I think we’ve achieved it – its purity will be its longevity.

Nokia N9 will be launched in 3 cool colours. What inspired those choices?

Colour has always been important to the Nokia brand. Black, Cyan and Magenta were chosen as colours that are already familiar to people in their
everyday lives. They are the colours from your printer and other places in your world.

And we wanted colours that would last. We coloured the raw material so it’s inherent to the plastic. This way, if it scratches, it’s still the same colour. Again, this adds to the purity at the heart of the N9’s design.

Swipe is such a natural gesture – do you think it can be improved upon and will it set the bar for smartphone interaction?

Definitely to both! Swipe is a natural movement, but we always believe we can go better. There are things we can always try. Our technologists and
developers are continually innovating and that influences our future designs. We have to find new ways of bringing them together, so I definitely think we can improve upon Nokia N9.

And swipe is just the beginning of finding a new way to interact. It will inform what we see in other models and designs going forward, but will no
doubt improve further. Think about it like this – we are a baby that has just learnt to crawl, and we’ve still got to learn to walk before we can run.
Getting back to basics can be the best way to move forwards.

I can’t lie – my favourite is the seamless glass and body design. It feels so smooth to the touch, and makes everything else work. I also love the
Multitasking screen where you can see your open apps and windows. For me, these are like memories that trigger the future… you’re moving forwards even when you swipe ‘backawards’. And the camera is amazing. We haven’t given it the biggest megapixels, but we have made the
world’s best smartphone camera sensor. With wide-angled Carl Zeiss optics, the picture quality is superb.

Finally, if you had to choose one Nokia N9, which colour would you choose?

Ahhh, that’s tough question. It was cyan, but now it’s magenta. I love this colour. But let’s see next month, it will probably change again!

Thanks to Axel and the Industrial Design team for their time, and for creating such a beauty in the Nokia N9. If it’s anything to go by, we’d say the future is looking very exciting.

His biography on press.nokia.com [Feb 25, 2011]

Name: Axel Meyer
Title: Head of Design for Explore, Nseries
Nokia Design Studio: Espoo, Finland
Lives: Helsinki
Nationality: Argentine
Age: 40

What attracted you to design?

I always wanted to be an archaeologist and investigate things from the past civilizations. When I was young, my father-in-law was designing a car and then realized that by designing products I could be the archaeologist of the future. I thought this was really beautiful.

What is your background?

I graduated as a product designer from Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina, then started a small studio studio with two friends. In those times we didn’t have much of a design culture in Argentina and we were doing it all, so I got experience in designing packaging, products, user experience, visual communications and so on. I started very early with a holistic approach to understanding products. In innovation design you need a multidisciplinary approach so you can make one plus one equal to three and create that “wow” unique factor.

How much of your design aesthetic stems from your own culture or experiences? How does your background come through in your design ideas?

My experiences have made me a broad thinking person and given me the drive to push forward my design vision and strategy to the next phase where we can implement and execute the solution. And along the way I work to have communications so that the story reaches the people. But before all of that, I think that we as designers need to explore and observe constantly. As I design, it cannot be based only on my ideas or experiences. I am always scrutinizing everyday situations, and at Nokia we have many people and partners around the globe feeding us with lots of input and inspiration so that we can translate everyday needs and desires and ideas into practical and beautiful solutions.

What is it like to work in such a dynamic industry and what are the challenges you currently face as a designer?

I think it is super nice and entertaining to work in such a dynamic industry. The pace can be incredibly hectic, but it is so interesting to design for humanity which is constantly evolving. We are always looking for new ways to simplify design so that it is understandable to all and at the same time delivering solutions that make people feel superhuman. It is almost like being an alchemist. We are constantly pushing our own boundaries. The challenge is that you are designing for people, but you never know how well you are doing until you see people living a better and more interesting life, having a more natural dialog with their communities.

Where do you look for inspiration?

I look for inspiration everywhere, but specially in the everyday little moments of life. How do we wake up? How do we go to sleep? The whole idea that the moment you leave the home, you can have your whole life with you and be connected to your friends and family no matter wherever you are. You almost wonder if at some point in the near future we will need physical addresses anymore.

How would you describe your design aesthetic?

For me design is more about an approach rather than an aesthetic. I see design as how can I solve a problem and deliver to people something that is relevant to their life; and if it can simplify things. I am trying to make not so much the object, but the experience. And I think that from an aesthetic perceptive simplicity is the way to amplify that. To overload it is to lose the focus. I also think of the design as a whole. But most of all it definitely has a social aspect because at the end of the day it is all about people, and we design for people.

How would you define good design?

Good design is relevant and solves a moment in peoples’ lives. Good design brings something new to people so they can amplify their experiences, and it is something that brings them happiness. In some cases, it is practical and in others it is about the emotional experience. But I think that truly good design elevates the emotional rather than the rational side of things. I also think that good design should be simple and easy, and fast and nice, and ubiquitous. At the end of the day, good design should be judged by the people for whom it is relevant. For me, good design mostly means that moves peolple emotionally or it contributes to a real improvement in their lives.

What do you think people look for in design of mobile devices today?

I think that people are looking for a new platform on which they can start to communicate with one another within their communities. This is why I always try to design new, human ways for communicating and sharing. I think that the solutions we offer should make people feel superhuman. There should be some familiarity in those interactions, but it should be faster and nicer and at the same time more natural.

How is the internet changing or influencing what and how you design?

The internet is a platform for how we communicate. We don’t think about it anymore when we are on the web, but we are constantly sharing and connected. Also with the internet, the way you manage your spaces is different. You can define those areas where you want to be seen and heard, or more private. We live connected to the web. Technology is an enabler and brings benefits to people to meet social needs.

Favorite Nokia design and why?

I always like the best the Nokia design coming next. As designers in Nokia, we are non-conformist. We always think we can innovate in the future.

Favorite Nokia icon and why?

I like all of the Nokia icons because you can overlay the different experiences. I like to access media through my Contacts. And I like Sports Tracker because you can use it to compare and share with your friends in a really fun way.

Which device do you use today and why?

I use the Nokia N97 because it is so adaptable and transforms to different situations. I can use it with only one hand, with two hands, or rest it on my stomach while I watch a movie. It adapts to your context and not visa versa.

Steve Kaneko on Microsoft Design – Full interview [Dec 15, 2011]

Joshua Topolsky talks with Microsoft Design Director Steve Kaneko about Microsoft Design, past, present, and future.

Microsoft’s design lead Steve Kaneko on unification and Metro: ‘We’re not looking over our shoulders’ [The Verge, Dec 16, 2011]

While Windows 8’s Metro overhaul goes a long way towards completely reinventing the OS, in some ways it hasn’t gone far enough — there are still places where the classic Windows interface resurfaces. So why hasn’t Microsoft fully adopted Metro yet? Microsoft design director Steve Kaneko sat down with our own Joshua Topolsky for an interview (see the full video at the bottom), and he says that while the company is committed to Metro’s design principles, there are challenges that have made the transition difficult — he says that the large Metro style interface, designed for touch interaction, doesn’t scale in an obvious way to software like Office that has a lot of dense information. While Metro attempts to eliminate what Microsoft calls “chrome” (superfluous design elements), he says that chrome has traditionally served a functional purpose in crowded applications, and the design team now has to express grouping and visual hierarchy with composition, layout, font scaling, and contrast ratios.

Kaneko also shares that Microsoft is becoming a more design-oriented company, and that it’s working consciously toward unifying the look and feel of its products — something that some Windows users have pined for over the years. He says that “as designers, we knew way before we actually executed that we did have a mixed message to consumers,” and that the Microsoft brand was fragmented because of an inconsistent design language. Now, he says that Microsoft’s design community feels more confident, and that “we’re not looking over our shoulders as much as we used to.” (Presumably because designers may have been wary of skeptical Microsoft executives.)

Steve Ballmer hinted at the possibility of a Metro-style version of the next Office suite back in September, but we’re still not sure when, if, and to what extent Microsoft’s legacy software will be upgraded with the new UI. And while Kineko says the company is certainly thinking hard about how to implement Metro, just having the vision is not enough — by his own admission, it’s all about execution now.

Steve Kaneko, Partner Director of Design, Office at Microsoft Corporation [Linked In, excerpted on Dec 17, 2011]


Partner Director of Design, Office   Microsoft Corporation

Public Company; 10,001+ employees; MSFT; Computer Software industry
May 2011Present (8 months)

User Experience Director   Microsoft – Entertainment and Devices Division

Public Company; 10,001+ employees; MSFT; Computer Software industry
February 2006June 2011 (5 years 5 months)

Design Director   Microsoft/Windows Hardware Innovation

Public Company; 10,001+ employees; MSFT; Computer Software industry
February 2003February 2006 (3 years 1 month)

Design Director    Microsoft Windows Division

Public Company; 10,001+ employees; MSFT; Computer Software industry
June 2000September 2003 (3 years 4 months)

Windows Design Director orchestrating the integration between Windows product design and Windows Brand architecture.

Design Manager  Microsoft Hardware Group

Public Company; 10,001+ employees; MSFT; Computer Software industry
September 1991June 2000 (8 years 10 months)

Design manager of Industrial Design, Interface, User Assistance, and Usability for Microsoft’s hardware peripherals devision. Product lines cinsists of computer mice, keyboards, gaming devices, speakers, phones, and misc.

Senior Industrial Designer   Fluke Corporation

Privately Held; 501-1000 employees; DHR; Computer Networking industry
May 1988September 1991 (3 years 5 months)

Lead Industrial Designer on low cost handheld digital multimeter line of products. Developed and designed company brand identity system.

Product Designer    Technology Design (Sole Proprietorship) February 1984September 1988 (4 years 8 months)

Staff industrial designer in product design consultancy. Products ranging from recreational equipment, electronic test and measurement, consumer, and furntiture products.


University of Washington  BFA, Industrial Design



  1. […] display technology from Nokia [Dec 18, 2011] – Corning Gorilla Glass (wikipedia article) – Best practice industrial and user experience design – Nokia and Microsoft [Dec 17, 2011] where an absolutely leading edge industrial design achievement of “seamless design […]

  2. […] differentiators for Lumias. We have already discussed this extensively in a separate post: Best practice industrial and user experience design – Nokia and Microsoft [Dec 17, 2011]. The second thing mentioned specifically here is the screen technology. Again, this […]

  3. […] it is still quite distant from Microsoft’s achievements in design, and taken together with Nokia even more so, it is better to be late than never come to that discipline at all. And Google is […]

  4. […] smarter phones–Marko Ahtisaari (Nokia) and Albert Shum (Microsoft) [Nov 23, 2011] – Best practice industrial and user experience design – Nokia and Microsoft [Dec 17, 2011 – Jan 31, […]

  5. […] Ahtisaari (Nokia) and Albert Shum (Microsoft) [this same Experiencing the Cloud, Nov 23, 2011] – Best practice industrial and user experience design – Nokia and Microsoft [this same Experiencing the Cloud, Dec 17, 2011 – Jan 31, 2012] – Less focus on feature phones […]

  6. […] Nokia Design direction [Aug 1 – Oct 31, 2012]- Best practice industrial and user experience design – Nokia and Microsoft [Dec 17, 2011 – Jan 31, 2012]- Designing smarter phones–Marko Ahtisaari (Nokia) and Albert Shum […]

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