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December 7, 2011

Nokia Products That Changed The World: Stephen White

Back in November we 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 bumped into Stephen White (the curator of the exhibition). Stephen, the Principal Designer at Nokia and the driving force behind the installation explained to us that the show displayed Nokia’s phone history in chronological order; from the Nokia 1011 to the Lumia 800. His work also explored in detail how Nokia have connected people via innovative design. We were intrigued to know more about the intentions of the exhibition, so a few of us took a camera down to Nokia’s London design studio to meet the man himself.

There was a vast expanse of content in this exhibition, so we decided to summarise Stephen’s work into four integral design silos: Mobility, Patterns, Sustainability and Craft. These four key areas of design will help you understand the thought processes behind designing and manufacturing a phone.


Nokia have been at the forefront of freeing up once-fixed activities, the notion that calls, SMS, emailing, the internet, music and games could all be made mobile. The key to mobility lies in the design departments ability to integrate more features into smaller handsets moving forward. Here are some models that changed the face of mobility:

1992: Nokia 1011 – The first mass-market digital hand-portable phone for GSM networks.

1999: Nokia 7110 – The world’s very first WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) phone. You could surf a ‘light’ version of the internet. Do you remember this handset from the original Matrix film?

2006: N95 – Considered to be the first true multi-media phone. It had Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, infrared, GPS, a 5MP camera, video, MP3 player and internal flash memory.


Patterns relate to the way we interact with mobile phones and how a phone shapes our lives, this of course changes rapidly as time goes by.

‘We’re all different now. Nokia products have steadily influenced the way people act, relate and communicate. Behaviour and language has changed forever; patterns of human interaction and expectation have evolved; the socio-cultural landscape has witnessed a step-change. From a yuppie plaything, to a business tool; a statement in style, to an everyday essential; a pocket camera, to a hand-held computer – Nokia products have continually redefined the way we live and influenced the zeitgeist’.  

When was the last time you took a photo, uploaded it online and discussed the image with friends? Probably today, yesterday or even this week? A few years ago this was impossible. In this scenario the phone has connected you with your friends, given you bankable memories and enabled you to interact with your surroundings. Here are a few phones that refined the way people interact with their handsets:

1994: Nokia 2110 – The first phone to incorporate a breakthrough two-way scroller, which made browsing the phone’s 99 number phone book fast and efficient! It was also the first device to have the Nokia ringtone installed on it.

1998: Nokia 5110 – The first time a phone became a lifestyle product rather than a communication tool. The Xpress-On covers allowed users to personalise their phone with different colours and gave birth to a new industry of personalised phone accessories.

2002: Nokia 7650 – Nokia’s first ever full colour screen and built-in camera. Instead of a ‘heads down’ experience, having a phone now became more about capturing the moment around you, as new gestures, conventions and behaviours emerged.


Nokia is a huge global company, so small decisions can have a significant effect on millions of people. We don’t just try to create ‘environmentally  friendly’ handsets, we also manage their operations and engage employees about the importance of protecting the environment.

Here are some facts about the sustainability of Nokia’s products and product packaging:

– More than 95% of Nokia product packaging is made from renewable, wood-based materials, of which more than 50% is recycled content.

– We are finding ways to make our packaging smaller: by reducing box sizes by 10mm in height , we can fit 25% more per pallet

– Nokia has reduced the weight of packaging materials and user guides by over 60%, which equates to over 100,000 tons of saved paper – in theory this has taken every other Nokia truck off the road.

The Nokia 1100 (2003) was conceived with sustainability as a driving design principle. It was simple to pull apart, so bits could be replaced or repaired, giving the phone a longer lifespan. This was an affordable, durable and relevant handset for emerging markets.

The Nokia 6300’s (2007) parts were either completely recyclable or could be re-purposed for other products. Its metal structure was notoriously strong and represented a tricky creation in engineering terms.


This was the part of the exhibition that delved into the history of raw materials; did you know that Nokia products have been produced from metal, leather, plastics and ceramics in all kinds of colours and finishes? For over two decades, Nokia’s designers have grappled with the limits of materials, forms and process to create small objects of immense practicality and understated beauty.

Here are two of our favourite handsets from the exhibition, we think they scream CRAFT:

2005: Nokia 8800 – called ‘A taste of luxury’ at the exhibition this phone was made from stainless steel, metal injection-moulding, premium scratch-resistant glass and ball-bearing mechanisms. Clothed in a premium-feel brushed-metal body, the Nokia 8800’s design cues came from jewellery, watchmaking and high-end automobiles

2008: Nokia C3 – research showed Nokia that QWERTY phones were sought-after in emerging markets, particularly with younger people wanting them for social media and text messaging. The problem was simply the price. So, through clever use of anodised aluminium, bold colour and some inspired tweaks to form, Nokia’s designers skilfully turned a high-value proposition into an affordable package.

Stephen White: Interview

Stephen and a team of designers collected and put together all of the handset history you have just read. We managed to grab ten minutes with him at Nokia HQ London to briefly talk about the exhibition. We asked him about his favourite handset from a design perspective, talked about some of the installations and looked ahead to World Design Capital 2012 in Helsinki where Stephen hopes to launch a larger version of this exhibition.

Which of the phone’s featured in this exhibition do you think changed the world of mobile communication? Let us know @Nokia_Connects. Head to the Nokia Connects Flickr page if you want to see more photos from this exhibition.