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Designing the Lumia

Such is the design purity of these miracle mini computers; it’s easy to get a little too attached.

Indeed, the Nokia Lumia 900 boasts one of the most identifiable, innovative and critically acclaimed smartphone looks of recent times. And yes, there are times when we’ve struggled to put it down.

But what gives a handset that often-intangible fusion of high fashion and functionality? We called upon Nokia’s Head of Industrial Design, Stefan Pannenbecker to discuss some of the considerations behind the hardware intricacies that have made this phone unique and, in turn, made your life easier.

“We care about the smallest details and craft each part of the phone so it becomes what you’d expect from a beautiful watch, or a beautifully engineered pair of sunglasses,” Stefan tells us.

Stefan Pannenbecker

Every detail counts

A prime example of this attention to detail is Nokia Lumia 900’s speaker holes. Each of the holes is drilled individually after the polycarbonate monobody has been molded. “By milling each hole we can achieve a higher level of precision in the way we execute the holes and also a higher level of density of the holes, which in turn leads to better sound,” Stefan continues.

The position of the headphone jack is a good example as well. Positioning the headphone jack on the left side of the device and concentrically to the profile of the monobody creates a few challenges in terms of drop testing and component choice, but executing these types of details really makes the difference between an ok design and a truly different design.

“For the black and cyan finishes, we felt that the matte really supported the idea of premium plastics. It works very well within the context of a sculpture. When it came time to look at the white version we had a rethink and opted for a high gloss finish, because it created an almost ceramic feel. It’s almost more refined.”

Lumia 900 speaker

Keep it simple
Beyond the color and the finish, the Lumia 900’s body also has a seamlessly integrated camera lens meaning it does not impose on the smoothness of the device and won’t get caught in the lip of your jeans pocket as you scramble to capture the shot

“Generally,” Stefan says, “We work towards integrating all of the elements as seamlessly as possible. We made quite an effort in the case of the Nokia Lumia 800 and Nokia Lumia 900’s camera as we felt it was a better fit with the monobody. It fits in with our idea of simplicity.

“Sometimes we do other things. In the PureView 808 we’re dealing with a much bigger component (a 41-megapixel sensor) so we make it feel right. The camera module is quite large so it’s used to give the device character.”

With so much contained within the unibody, some things have taken to the exterior of the device; like the top-loaded SIM card slot. What was behind the decision to place it on top of the device?

“It has to do with the internals of the product and how we can create the best overall design. We call that designing inside out. The designers spend a lot of time with the electrical and mechanical engineers to discuss what is the best product arc we can achieve.

“We wanted to maintain a very sealed overall appearance which meant it had to be on the top or the bottom. It ended up on the top because a big part of the antenna is at the bottom and it would have interfered its performance.

“Besides that, our thinking was to create an interface area with the headphone jack, microUSB and SIM slot so it feels natural from a user interface point of view.”

SIM slot on Lumia 900

It’s all about the experience
The industrial design innovations don’t end there. The thumb-friendly screen-on side switch is perfectly placed to compensate for the larger screen, while positioning the speaker on the bottom of the device keeps the Lumia 900s face clean.

“We tried to take away the things that aren’t important,” explains Stefan. “Once you begin looking at the display, we want the object itself to go into the background, so it does not get in the way of the experience.

So, it seems, for all of that thought that’s gone into creating a beautiful body, with seamlessly integrated components and well-placed functionality, the smartphone designer’s ultimate reward is that you don’t notice any of their hard work!

While you’re here, check out Stefan Pannenbecker talk about the creation of the Nokia Lumia 800 in our 8-minute in-depth video documentary:

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