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March 9, 2015

Design without compromise: Peter Griffith

“Evolving products is, by its very definition, a gradual process of development. You can’t rush it, but it’s a process that gathers pace as you invest in it. These are the principles we apply when designing phones.”

That’s how Peter Griffith, head of phones design at Microsoft, starts our conversation when I ask about designing a whole portfolio of devices.

“If you look at the Nokia 215 and the Lumia 532, they’re both different devices. The Nokia 215 has a keypad and a separate screen while the Lumia 532 has a touchscreen. But, even with different form factors, we have a consistent approach to design”.

Peter’s right. Side by side, the Nokia 215 and Lumia 532 do look similar, as do any other combination of phones in the portfolio.


Materials matter

“We start by understanding the materials we use to build our phones. Our material of choice is polycarbonate, partly because it does not interfere with radio signals, and we’ve invested a considerable amount of time and energy learning how to craft this material.”

“Take the Lumia 532 for instance. It’s created from the same polycarbonate as the Nokia 215, but we’ve taken it a step further to include a semi-translucent layer that makes the base layer shine and lets the colors look even more intense.”

While this isn’t the first time we’re seeing the dual layering of polycarbonate–just look at the Asha 503 and Nokia X2 –its re-appearance on the Lumia range shows that Microsoft is still looking to create devices that are different from the rest.

The latest device to receive the dual layering treatment is the newly announced Lumia 640, with the orange and cyan versions.


“Creating a dual-layer polycarbonate shell has many challenges, but the result is a stunning-looking device. We’ve had time to play around with this technique since the Asha 503 and we’re delighted to bring it to a wider audience.”

Striking a balance

“When you find something that works, it’s easy to keep doing the same, time after time, but that’s when you fail to innovate,” said Peter. “Striking that balance between today’s design and tomorrow’s evolution is key to what we’re doing.”

The design philosophy used by Peter and his team is “pure and human,” but what does this mean?

“We design all of our phones to be both pure and human.

“The pure element is about removing any unnecessary detail from the phone, anything that doesn’t need to be there. This is an approach that also applies to the Windows Phone platform, so there’s consistency there, too.


“When removing anything that’s not needed, what’s left behind becomes decisive for the success of the object. Details have to be just right. Simplicity only works when it’s not at all simple to achieve!

“When we talk about being human, that’s the personal side of things, such as the ergonomics, how it feels in the hand, and the placement of the keys. But it’s also something more.


“There aren’t many consumer products that are such an intrinsic part of our lives as our phones are. More often than not our phones wait in our pockets all day, next to us on the table, and many of us sleep with it next to the bed at night. These are very human and personal objects.”

Lastly, Peter leaves us with this:

“By learning about the materials we use, understanding their inherent qualities, we are able to build a wide portfolio of products, each one imbued with care and dedication, each one the highest quality it can be. Without compromise.”