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March 23, 2010

Nokia designers talk footprints and form factors – Design by Community

Iain-PottieLONDON, England – Earlier today we caught up with two of Nokia’s top industrial designers to pick their expert brains on the many considerations and challenges they face when defining the size and shape of a new device. We asked them what the key influencers are that dictate the form factors and footprints of products? They graciously obliged, providing us with some interesting insight into the design process and how devices really begin to take shape.

For many of us outside the design inner sanctum, like myself and the rest of the team here on Conversations, it’s fascinating to catch a glimpse behind the curtain. Particularly when, on a topic such as how a device earns its particular size and shape, we tend to come at it with a prescribed set of expectations. However, speaking to Nokia designers, Damian Mycroft and Iain Pottie, it’s clear that defining features such as size and shape is far less about brutally crowbarring functionality into a device, and far more about the delicate balance of optimization and positive compromise required to create a product that ultimately creates a great user experience. And one tailored to fit the size of your hands, as Iain explains.


“It’s about choosing the right balance. That balance is obviously skewed by a number of different things, whether it be the target for the product, in terms of its consumer or its spec. I think we have some great opportunities to consider consumers as a key driver to ensuring we’re doing the right thing for them, physically. Anthropometrics – the size of people’s hands – is a great one as it has a huge impact on the way that people will be able to relate to the product, or indeed carry the product around with them. In terms of testing this we use everything from consumer testing through to common sense, to determine how people will use the products and how that impacts on the physicality of it.” Iain Pottie is a Senior Design Manager at Nokia, and a member of the team that created the Nokia C5

As for gauging what a user’s expectations are in terms of the experience they wish to feel when using a device – including how the size and shape might impact this – the process at Nokia is very interactive with consumers.

“We do a lot of research work, called ‘immersions’, where we go out into the real world and try to understand intimately how consumers use their products. And also their lifestyle choices and their use of other technologies as well. That gives us a really good understanding of what may be missing in their lives in terms of telephony, or what is or isn’t working for them. And then obviously we try and project that back to them with use cases, with scenarios, with experiences, with solutions. So we have quite an interactive process with consumers all the way through.”Iain Pottie, Senior Design Manager, Nokia

In many cases a thin grey line sits between what can and can’t be achieved using today’s technologies and manufacturing techniques when it comes to design in relation to size and shape. When we spoke to Damian Mycroft we asked him about how the design team approaches a challenge such as being faced with wanting to do something that isn’t currently perceived as possible.


“That’s where longer term concepting comes in. On the one hand we just have to go ahead and do the best that we can, and do that in a smart way hopefully, and apply little tricks that let you achieve something that you thought wasn’t achievable with the current technology by putting things together in a different way – that’s the day to day, what we call the ‘program work’, of bringing phones to market. And on the other hand we gather up wish lists and ask ourselves why can’t we do it – the ‘why not’ questions, rather than the ‘how’ questions, and come up with a concept and say this is a vision of what we’d like in three to four years rather than say one to two years. And that gives us something to aim for.”Damian Mycroft, Senior Design Manager, Nokia

Of course, alongside all this some clever jigsaw-solving-skills need to be applied in order to sardine a significant feature set into a device such as the new compact Nokia C5, or when nestling top quality 8-megapixel optics into a handset like the Nokia N86. As Iain highlights.

“Optimizing around the main components – it’s battery, it’s power, it’s screens, it’s antennas. They tend to be the things that have the big knock-on effect when it comes to size.” Iain Pottie, Senior Design Manager, Nokia

So in the context of Design by Community, we’re sure to be faced with an interesting set of hypotheticals related to these key features in imagining our concept device. Case in point, when it comes to considering how we might fit a 4-inch display (last week’s favourite) into a handset that might mean the screen has to touch the very edges of the device – something that today’s technologies currently don’t allow, and will only become possible via new technologies and construction techniques.

Let us know what you think by scribbling your thoughts in the comments section directly below.

Also, stay tuned later this week to watch our video vox pops that see us asking Iain and Damian what they think is the secret to a great concept device, and what their dream Nokia device would be.