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Nokia Design direction

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Update: Marko Ahtisaari, Head of Design at Nokia on the Lumia 920 & Working with Microsoft [minipcpro YouTube channel, Oct 31, 2012]

On the day of the official launch of Windows Phone 8 and http://www.mobilegeeks.com got a little behind the scene’s for you. Sascha took a trip to Nokia’s headquarters in Finland and got to sit down with Marko Ahtisaari Head of Design at Nokia sits down with us for a 30 minute Q&A. He tackles questions like what is the working relationship like with Microsoft? What would make to proud to hear people say about the Lumia 920? Where to you draw your design inspiration from? Quite a bit of insight is provided into the design process and he even takes a moment to clear up what he meant when he was quoted on spending half his time on non smartphone projects. It’s pretty interesting since the information came about in a round about way from a wearable computing question. Well worth watching if you want to know how things come together.

Marko Ahtisaari, Executive Vice President, DesignPeople Made: Conversations with Nokia Designers [published on nokia YouTube channel, July 31, 2012] prepared for and shown on “People Made – An Exhibition on Nokia Design” held between June 8 and September 2 in Helsinki (see the background information below)

Views/opinions/answers by Marko Ahtisaari, Executive Vice President, Design; member of the Nokia Leadership Team, leading both the industrial design and user experience design activities in Nokia.

Part 1 – PT1 [7:27] What is the biggest motivation in your role?

… [8:23] I think for me it’s that moment when you see the impact of something that you and the team have been working on, in the hands of people and then inventing ways to use it, or take it further that you haven’t anticipated. And I think that power to cross things that spread imagination and empower people. That’s for me, and recently that’s been with N9 getting feedbacks in how the imagination races when you start using it. And us of course making it better. [8:57] …

Part 2 – PT2 [3:30] Where will Nokia Design have its biggest impact in the future?

… [4:12] Further to what Pete’s said one particular topic of the studio, the scale is what we can do to impact change at extremely affordable price points. And that’s something that our industry as a whole does not get excited about, innovations in that area. They care more about something very expensive parts of the portfolio like get N9 and innovating then. What we can do under 10 Euros, under 5 Euros that changes everything, in a way from bottom up? That’s very unique and exciting. [4:51] …

Regarding the design aspects of N9 see:
Nokia to enter design pattern competition for 2011 smartphones with MeeGo [this same Experiencing the Cloud, Dec 9, 2010 – Jan 31, 2012]
Nokia N9 UX [?Swipe?] on MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan [this same Experiencing the Cloud, June 24 – Oct 27, 2011]

[12:40] What are the foundations Nokia Design is laying for the future?

… [13:20] I think if continue on that, real challenges: we make things that are combinations of hardware and software, how do we make the business more sustainable in value in the sense that we can give you a phone and it has a longer life. May be one phone is enough, and then you can upgrade it, even in our industry where the cycle is so fast, and constantly the engines and technologies are changing. How do we get to a path that isn’t built on selling you one every year. [13:47] … [15:01] I think one area where we have huge opportunities: we are just at the beginning. If you look at the physicality of the object, how natural we can make the interaction? I think the N9 shows a bit, it’s like a hint. It’s the first glimpse of how you can make something so direct. Peter and I were last summer in the garden of alvaraldos (??), experimental summer house muratsava (??). In the garden walking with Nato Fukasawa (??), and we were asking “Do you think that your view of just discovering the most natural way that a person relates to an object, is that already applied to software?” He said: “Oh, maybe now with this directness .. I’m coming to see you next year.” [response] “Oh, we have something to show you.” We are just at the beginning, so how do we make common technology to recede to the background, so feel even more natural, it becomes even more invisible? [15:58]

Part 4 – PT4 [8:28] How will our industry change in the next decade?

… [10:29] I think an important angle to that which Peter you raise as we have to develop ways of moving very quickly in five to ten months, not just five to ten years, and catch the small things that change. Couple of the things that are certainly happening: one is this drive to lower and lower cost, then almost anyone can manufacture, and how is that changing? Everything sort of democratization of making things, not only effecting our industry. And then the other one, which is I think good all around us, more democratization of information, so we are getting to a point where there will be a website for that. And this period of having apps as a way to structure our relationship with these devices probably [will end]. It’s difficult to see from the inside, because this is all moving so fast, but I think we’ll see more of the open web again, then we’ll have the Internet back. [11:22] … [12:02] We are very sensitive to small beautiful ideas [12:05]

[15:25] What will the Nokia Design legacy be in the future?

… [16:00] Potential. [16:07]

Important presentation video (you should click on the image to go to a video page):
see at: http://www.dmi.org/dmi/html/conference/europe12/CE12AHT.htm

More information:
Nokia Lumia (Windows Phone 7) value proposition [this same Experiencing the Cloud, Oct 26 – Nov 2, 2011]
Designing smarter phones–Marko 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 while extending the smartphones effort: further readjustments at Nokia [this same Experiencing the Cloud, June 25, 2012]

Simplifying core use of phones is the focus of innovation at Nokia [The Hindu, July 24, 2012]

Nokia recently launched Lumia 610 in India, adding to the Lumia 800 and 710 ranges it already has in the market. It plans to launch the Lumia 900 here soon.

Marko Ahtisaari, Executive Vice-President (Design) of Nokia, spoke to M. Soundariya Preetha on the “heads up” design principle the company is adopting for its products. The correspondent was at Nokia’s design studio in Helsinki recently at the invitation of the company. Excerpts:

How does Nokia plan to take forward its “heads up” principle in the design of its products?

It is about designing products in a way that allows people to have heads up. It means the user interface is planned simple, is easy to quickly look at and does not demand more of your attention. I am interested in the 50 to 100 everyday things that people do with the phone that can be designed better. It involves combining innovation in hardware and software, an innovation that helps simplify the core use of the phone. One example is what we already have in the market for some time: on the screen of your phone you see the time and some view of what notifications you would have on the screen even when the phone is taking almost no power.

Why is design an important factor in a product?

We are ahead in a trend towards purity and we are focusing the product on essentials. People appreciate attention to detail. Our key challenge and opportunity is how do we apply the same level of attention to detail to all ranges of our products. Another challenge and opportunity is material innovation. We are meaningfully different because of quality and attention to details.

Apart from design, the other key areas that make the difference include photography features, continuous innovation, and features related to location and motionon our products (maps, drive, and public transport).

Can you elaborate on the plans to extend some features of the smart phone to all ranges?

Nokia recently launched Asha touch products, introducing full touch experience at new price points. We can do these kinds of hardware and software combinations, and can innovate in all price points. We cannot restrict innovation to a category of products.

Moving forward, how would you like Nokia products to be?

It is designing phones that feel human yet extremely advanced, phones that feel very organic and beautiful. Design is the soul of a product. It plays a key role in building products better, and it means consequent attention to details.

Design also stands out by re-imagining and improving what people do every day with phone and designing the product is such a way that people can use it heads up. It allows people to be connected to each other.

More information: Smartphone-like Asha Touch from Nokia: targeting the next billion users with superior UX created for ultra low-cost and full touch S40 devices [this same Experiencing the Cloud, July 20, 2012]

‘Heads up’ urges Nokia design chief [Yle News, March 15, April 27, 2012]

Nokia’s Executive Vice President of Design Marko Ahtisaari says in an interview with the Finnish business magazine Optio that he is looking for the next big leap in mobile user interfaces. It is likely to involve a radically different way of using mobiles.

His vision for the mobile phone in 2020 can be summarised in two words: ’heads up’, meaning that users should be able to use their phones without hunching over a screen.

He refused to give further details, beyond saying that it is a breakthrough, and that it involves speech commands.

In a word association exercise, Ahtisaari said that Google’s Android operating system was a ‘business innovation’, and had ‘nothing to do with design’. He also described Apple’s iPad as ‘significant’, and the iPhone as ‘five years old’.

Nokia’s forthcoming Lumia 900, meanwhile, was described as pure, clean-cut and simplified.

Ahtisaari also said that work on developing tablets takes up around a third of his time at Nokia.

On Windows Phone and Nokia’s ability to change its preferred smartphone platform, Ahtisaari told Optio that he believes the premise of the question is wrong.

”First you have to ask, how much Windows Phone should change,” said Ahtisaari. If the operating system is modern and holistic, it is pointless to change it. The most important thing is to get it into the market quickly, because the life cycle of operating systems is not eternal. Evolution always goes in 7-8 year leaps.”

Nokia’s Lumia 800 and 900: Seamlessly Simple [Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA), July 10, 2012]

Q & A with Marko Ahtisaari, EVP, Nokia Design
The smartphone market is highly competitive with two operating systems currently taking a large share. With the Lumia project, Nokia set out to establish the Windows Phone operating system as the third ecosystem, building awareness of its superior capabilities and simplicity and to establish Nokia as the leader of this ecosystem. Designed to be singularly beautiful, and as the lead product in Nokia’s brand renewal, the Lumia line also expresses the company’s strategy to stand out in a crowded marketplace.

Which came first the device or the OS? Which side (Nokia or Microsoft) initiated this unique collaboration?

The Nokia Lumia 800 and Nokia Lumia 900 were both born out of work that was ongoing at Nokia and Microsoft before the two companies came together.

Early on, we discovered that the design principles that inspired us were closely aligned. These are phones that aspire to be human and advanced and authentically digital. The design approach is one of rich reduction: on-screen and off this required taking away the unnecessary to make a simpler more beautiful phone. It’s a phone that puts your stuff front and center, where you want it and can find it fast. These phones are designed to be unobtrusive when in use, with the boundary between physical and digital interaction blending seamlessly at the curved edge of the screen. The result, we think, is a very natural fit.

Did the Nokia ID team have strong UI competency? What challenges did you face designing within Microsoft’s OS constraints?

Yes, our Lumia team comprises ID and UX designers. One of the biggest challenges was controlling the screen temperature of the colors. Nokia Lumia smartphones are colorful to the core; color is inherent in the polymer of the polycarbonate and central to the digital experience with the live tiles. The bold and simple look of these matching colors belies the amount of work that went in to achieving them, but the results we ultimately achieved on the Nokia Lumia 800 and Nokia Lumia 900 really make the Windows Phone interface pop.

How was research divided among the two teams? Did Nokia focus on materials? How did the Nokia team contribute to user research?

Yes, we started with materials; it’s the material that determines the form and function of the phone. Polycarbonate is RF transparent, so it offers great antennae performance and, as we mentioned, it allowed us to ingrain the color in the monobody. It’s a material that Nokia has mastered, and we continue to innovate with. For the Nokia Lumia 800 and Nokia Lumia 900, we used post-processing techniques more commonly reserved for metals, such as machining to tight tolerances and removing part lines, ensuring there is high definition in every detail to create a premium look and feel for the phone.

What was the biggest obstacle to getting the monobody to flow seamlessly into the glass display?

We had immense challenges in manufacturing and assembly. We had to rethink the entire construction concept and design of the phone from the inside out. We had made the body out of a single piece of polycarbonate, and so we needed to assemble the internals and chassis in sections through the screen aperture, locking them together with a puzzle joint. It was a bit like putting a ship inside a bottle.

We minimized flaws by using as few parts as possible, simple split lines, tight tolerances and relentless attention to detail. All of the openings on the body were machined after the injection moulding and then coated to achieve the most precise geometry possible. In this way we were able to produce the part with a level of craftsmanship normally associated with materials like metal.

How did you arrive at using cyan, light magenta and lime as the colors for the body?

We wanted to create a timeless device, not follow a trend. The colors of our Lumia range are inspired by the CMYK color palette, traditionally used in the print industry. These colors are distinctive modern design icons, people recognize them instantly. As primary colors they contrast with each other, and when you put them together with a black glass screen they produce a bold confident look that really stands out.

This line has a strong heritage including the N9. Which design element was most difficult to leave behind or omit in iterating from the N9 to the Lumia 800 (or Lumia 900)?

The Nokia Lumia 800 was a continuation of the Nokia N9 approach, iterated to get the best of Windows Phone. We brought back the camera key to better integrate the camera experience and utilized 64 pixels of screen real estate to position the soft keys.

With a less but better design attitude, everything has to earn its place. We took the same approach with the inbox accessories. Starting with the USB cable, we designed the USB plugs with aluminium caps to make the plugs as compact as possible. We created the European charger as a pure cylinder, matching the 38mm diameter socket. The high gloss white finish from the tool meant we could avoid the use of protective coatings while allowing tight draft angles and masking visual imperfections.

What do you hope will be the design legacy of these devices?

People want phones that look great and work brilliantly. The best legacy for Nokia Lumia 800 and Nokia Lumia 900 would be to continue to give people exactly that.


Helsinki is World Design Capital 2012 [Conversations by Nokia, Jan 5, 2012]

Marko Ahtisaari, Nokia SVP Design, said: “WDC Helsinki 2012 is a natural way for us to talk about our latest design innovations such as the Nokia N9, in which the physical form, materials, user interface and services – such as Nokia Maps – are combined into one seamless whole.”

One of the many activities Nokia will organize during WDC Helsinki 2012 is a design exhibition. The exhibition provides people with a unique chance to learn the stories behind some of the Nokia devices that changed the world. In addition to looking at the past 20 years, the exhibit will also give insights into the future design of mobile products.

People Made: An exhibition designed and curated by Nokia Design [nokia YouTube channel, June 11, 2012]

People Made traces the past, present and future of Nokia Design at World Design Capital. From June 8th to September 2nd 2012, Helsinki hosts the exhibition as part of a celebration of Hi Design. Conceived and curated at the London Design Museum in 2011, this film examines the inspiration, design and creation of People Made. To learn more about People Made, visit: http://nokia.ly/LxqRM9 HI Design 2012: http://nokia.ly/KNrFip

People Made: Nokia’s role in shaping the industry and changing lives [page on the Nokia website, June 8, 2012]

People Made -An Exhibition on Nokia Design 8 June - 2 September 2012

People Made, an exhibition as part of World Design Capital Helsinki, looks across more than 20 years of Nokia product making, and explores how Nokia has been instrumental in changing the lives of millions of people around the world.

Life-changing design innovations

People Made -An Exhibition on Nokia Design 8 June - 2 September 2012

The exhibition charts some of Nokia’s most significant design innovations, starting with the first mass-market digital handset (Nokia 1011) through to Nokia’s latest game-changing products (Nokia Lumia 800 and 900).  The exhibition also offers a compelling human dimension.  A new film installation called ‘Changing Lives’ shares personal, and often emotional, perspectives on Nokia and the influence of its products as told by the people who have had their lives changed by mobile technology.

People Made -An Exhibition on Nokia Design 8 June - 2 September 2012

Nokia designers on the future of the mobile industry

People Made -An Exhibition on Nokia Design 8 June - 2 September 2012

A further aspect to the exhibition is a film documenting a series of conversations between Nokia designers on the role they and design have in shaping the future. Taking a speculative look at the coming decade, the designers explore where the industry is headed, the challenges and opportunities that will exist, and they share their thoughts on advancing design and the Nokia legacy.

Innovations in colour

People Made -An Exhibition on Nokia Design 8 June - 2 September 2012

A special addition to the exhibition during its stay in Helsinki is a studio called the Colour Space. The Colour Space explores and celebrates the process of design.  At the centre of the space is a permanent showcase of Nokia’s latest innovative experiments with colour.

Showcasing the brilliance of the Finnish design community
The Colour Space will also host ongoing workshops, seminars and ‘live’ projects where experts from the Finnish design community show some of the practices and methods behind the brilliant design work that permeates our lives.

People Made — Nokia Products That Changed The World will be at the Cable Factory in Helsinki from June 8.

People Made at WDC Helsinki [Brand Book Nokia blog, June 13, 2012]

People Made, the exhibition which premiered last year at London’s Design Museum, has just re-opened its doors at World Design Capital Helsinki.  As part of the Hi Design expo at Kaapeli, People Made looks across more than 20 years of Nokia product making, and explores how Nokia Design has been instrumental in changing the lives of millions of people around the world.

“The exhibition charts some of Nokia’s most significant design innovations, starting with the first mass-market digital handset, the Nokia 1011, through to Nokia’s latest game-changing products such as the Nokia Lumia 800 and 900.” says Stephen White, who curated People Made. “But the exhibition also takes a speculative look forward in a film with Nokia designers discussing their role in shaping the future.”

New elements for this run of the exhibition include a film installation exploring the influence of Nokia and its products as told by Nokia customers. The second new element is a space celebrating the process of design through ongoing workshops and seminars where experts from the Finnish design community share some of the practices and methods behind the brilliant design work that permeates our lives.

People Made – Nokia Products That Changed The World
8 June – 2 September 2012
Merikaapelihalli, Kaapelitehdas, Helsinki
Entrance free

Design and curation: Nokia Design
Exhibition build: Eastway, Fair Factory
Photography: Angel Gil

Working harder: How industrial design influences Nokia [Nokia Connects, June 30, 2012]

If there’s one thing that practically everyone agrees on when it comes to Nokia phones, it’s that they’re beautifully designed and as hard as nails.

In fact, there’s an entire genre of memes dedicated to their amazingly indestructible nature. While these are loads of fun, what they show is how the principals of industrial design underpin everything Nokia does. But what exactly is industrial design and why has it been so central to Nokia’s evolution, and reputation?

What is industrial design?

Industrial design has its roots in early 20th century Germany. Eager to catch up with the industrial dominance of Great Britain and the USA, the state began to sponsor efforts to integrate traditional craftsmanship with industrial mass production. This eventually led to the creation of the Bauhaus, a school which was a to have a huge effect on not just industrial design, but everything from typography to architecture. Rather a group of like-minded creatives, than an explicit design philosophy, Bauhaus inspired designers embraced the new era of mass production as an opportunity to create art for living. You don’t have to look far to see their influence.

The World Capital of Industrial Design

In fact, if you happen to be anywhere near Helsinki, this year’s World Design Capital, you can just jump on a tram to the Cable Factory. Here you’ll find Hi Design 2012, an exhibition dedicated, to showcasing Finland’s amazing wealth of industrially designed products. Finland, as well as the other Nordic countries, industrialized a lot later than most of Western Europe. As a result, the Nordic countries were better able to preserve their traditions of craftsmanship and integrate them into commercial production. Today, the Finns produce a huge selection of carefully constructed mechanical masterpieces, everything from stunning lifts by Kone to kick ass snowmobiles from BRP Finland. Then, of course, there’s Nokia.

People Made

Nokia helped put Finnish Industrial design craftsmanship on the map, so it’s no surprise an entire floor is dedicated to mobile tech. The exhibition, People Made, which first kicked off at the London Design Museum, looks back over 20 illustrious years. From classics like the first mass-market digital handset, the Nokia 1011, right up to the Nokia Lumia 800 and 900, you get a real sense of Nokia’s design heritage. The beauty of these devices, as well as accessories like the Nokia Play 360 and Nokia Luna, are great examples of how industrial design has evolved over the decades. We’re sure that those early German design pioneers, from almost a century ago, would have approved.

See also: Nokia Products That Changed The World: Stephen White [Nokia Connects, Dec 7, 2011]

Back in November Nokia Connects headed down to the ‘People Made: Nokia Products That Changed The World’ exhibition at the London Design Museum. The installation featured a mix of Nokia phones, intriguing statistics, film and interactive displays to help visitors explore the last 20 years of Nokia design. Whilst we were down at the Design Museum we managed to secure an interview with Stephen White (the curator of the exhibition). Stephen is a Principal Designer at Nokia and was the prime driving force behind this exhibition coming to fruition.


  1. […] more information see: – Core post: Nokia Design direction [this same blog, Aug 1 – Oct 29, 2012] – The precursor of 2012 smartphone war: Nokia Lumia vs. […]

  2. […] Nokia Design direction [Aug 1 – Oct 31, 2012]- Best practice industrial and user experience design – Nokia and Microsoft […]

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