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Design Knowledge Intermediary
Nokia takes design lessons from its customers
(By Sirivish Toomgum 14/Jul/2009)

William Sermon, head of service and user interface design at Nokia Design Studio in London, said Nokia is trying to learn by observing consumers' everyday lives and developing solutions based on these observations.

Nokia has a global design team of around 320 people, representing 34 different nationalities. They include industrial designers, materials specialists, psychologists, researchers, anthropologists, engineers and interaction design specialists. They are based at Nokia's four main design studios, on each in Espoo, Finland; London; Beijing; and Calabasas in the US.

Understanding consumers' needs is the cornerstone of Nokia's product and service design, company designers say.

The team also visits different locations around the world and brings local insights gained there back to the studios to inspire its designs. They work not only on the physical designs of mobile phones but also on new ways for people to interact and use their devices more easily.

Jonne Harju, senior design manager at Nokia Design Studio in Finland, said all consumers have one thing in common: the desire to connect. The coming of the Internet has influenced mobile-phone design in terms of display size, battery consumption and connection speed, he said. Nokia has also studied the ways people interact with the devices. This is in order to create technologies that enable phone users to interact with devices naturally. One such technology is seen in the Nokia 8800. When it buzzes, the user can mute the sound by turning the screen down.

Younghee Jung, senior design specialist at Nokia Design Studio in London, who is currently working on a "natural interaction" study, said the most important part of her job is summed up in the phrase "open attitude". When confronted with something new, if one judges it too quickly, they might not learn from it, she said.

What people look for in the design of mobile devices, she said, are personalisation and convenience. Given that mobile phones are carried by consumers all the time, users want them to fit their lifestyles closely, expressing their personal style and being easily adaptable to the specific ways in which they want to be connected, she said.

Nikki Barton, head of digital design at Nokia Design Studio in London, said that since Nokia designs products to serve many consumer groups and markets, there cannot be one single design for everyone, and people should be able to choose the one that best suits their lifestyle.

Nokia has maintained some consistent features, however, such as icons, lay-out features and ease of use characteristics, to let people know that these are still Nokia devices, and to allow them to feel familiar with new phones' user interfaces.

She said it is a design challenge to keep things simple and understandable, so that features enhance rather than distract the user.

She added that Nokia's "brand DNA" is about "connecting people", not just through phone calls but in many new and better ways. Nokia also strives to be flexible and adaptable to change, she said.

Barton said Nokia designers come up with hundreds of ideas. An important part of the design process is to make sure that ideas not taken up early on aren't simply discarded, as sometimes these ideas show their strength later on.