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February 26, 2014

Not just a pretty face – the UI of the X family

Doug Walston from Nokia Design oversaw the creation of the stunning new user interface on the Nokia X family. We caught up with him to learn more about the challenges, and the achievement.

“With the X family,” says Doug, “we were really focused on the needs of new people using smartphones, especially those in emerging markets. We wanted to create a beautifully simple device that gives access to a wealth of apps.”

Beautiful simplicity

“The device has a simple, geometric design language brought from both Lumia and the Asha 500 family.

“We use bold colours, but once you’re working with the phone, our aim is to highlight the content, not the controls. So we don’t use brightly coloured buttons inside apps, for example. We want to let the content speak for itself.”


Crossing the gap

“The X family is crossing a bridge between Asha and Lumia smartphones, so it naturally contains influences from both sides.”

“From the Lumia side, you can see we’ve been influenced by Live Tiles. We’ve also been able to bring in signature Nokia experiences from Nokia MixRadio and HERE Maps. It’s really very unusual to find such powerful, free apps and experiences at this price.”

But the Asha family is perhaps where people will be graduating from to buy phones in the new X family. Doug was keen to bring in the best from both worlds.


“The ability to swipe straight into the Fastlane notifications screen has been enormously popular on Asha. Moving it to the X family allowed us to take another look at it and even improve on the experience.

“It’s now more robust: it tracks all your experiences, and the things you need to pay attention to. And we’ve made it more intelligent, so it brings more notifications from the apps and people that are most important to you, and fewer from those apps that you don’t use or from those people you don’t contact often.”

Easy access

And the new Fastlane doesn’t require any extra effort from developers.

“Apps don’t need to be rewritten to tap into Fastlane. We’ve used some special sauce (and native platform hooks) so it all just works. You can also exclude apps or individual items. If there’s a game you play, for example, that constantly begs you to upgrade levels, you can just tell it to stop and you won’t see those notices again.”

Notification icons also appear on the phone’s glance screen. Fuller descriptions of the notifications appear on the lock screen. So your privacy is preserved from people who can see your screen, but getting up-to-date is never more than a tap away. The phone also supports Android widgets, so you can have those on your home screen if you like.

Point of pride

“If there’s an element of the interface of which I’m particularly proud,” concludes Doug, “it’s the home screen.

“It’s so distinctive, bold and direct. It’s a break from the confusion that you see elsewhere in phones at this price.

“The simplicity of the interface also means that it has a very low overhead on performance. Typically for a phone with all these features, you would expect a horrid battery life and a laggy interface in this segment, but that isn’t true of the X family at all. The performance is surprisingly good.”