3/26/13

Nokia’s design – the hidden details


This post is about hiding or removing the commonly required labels on the Nokia Lumia 820. But before we get to that, we need a little context on why that’s important or interesting.
Nokia’s design stance isn’t to do things differently for the sake of it, but rather to be meaningfully different.

Often the design work is about taking things away rather than adding more.

When Nokia’s design team came to create the Lumia family of Windows Phone devices, it became clear that when the phone is switched on, then the screen needed to be the centre of attention.

Everything else should recede into the background to bring the display front and centre.

Niilo and Jonne

I heard about some of the lengths that Nokia go to in this regard in a recent conversation with Niilo Alfthan and Jonne Harju from the design team working on Nokia smartphones.

They told me about their problem with text and labels.

Niilo explains: “Electronic devices and phones in particular, need to carry quite a lot of writing on their bodies.

“Some of these are legal requirements; other pieces of text carry service information and serial numbers.”

No distractions, please

Nokia’s designers wanted nothing to interfere with the phones’ smooth curves and seamless colour.

“On a unibody construction, they can make for a distraction, “ says Jonne. “We became quite obsessed with reducing the visual clutter. The owner should feel that we really care about the most minute detail.”

For the Lumia 920, a solution was derived that had been successfully piloted on earlier models. Instead of having text and numbers stamped on the surface, the designers used the hidden SIM tray, front and back, to carry some codes. There’s also a hidden metal tab with more of the necessary information.

With the Lumia 820, a different approach was required. The rear cover is, of course, swappable, leaving the battery exposed. Batteries have a legal requirement to have all sorts of details about their capabilities and recycling information.

Nokia Design didn’t want this visible, so instead they put the information on a sticker underneath the battery. “When the owner opens up the phone, they just see pure black,” says Niilo.

The information has to be on a sticker, because some service operations can mean that the IMEI number of the phone changes, for example, so it would need to be replaced.

“As you can imagine, Nokia has millions of little white stickers in stock, since they are used on every phone,” Niilo continues.

Black on black

But for this model, with its black interior, the team decided that such visual clutter was unacceptable. So instead, when you open up a Lumia 820 and remove the battery, you’ll find a black sticker.

It’s a really small thing, but realising that someone has cared so much about such tiny details makes a big difference.

“We are consciously raising the bar,” Jonne concludes. “It’s been by no means easy to do, but it’s now something we want to keep going forward.”

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