Designing The Nokia Lumia 800: An Interview With Stefan Pannenbecker

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 30 May 2012
Category: Features Comments View Comments


Behind every tech product and gadget is a team of industrial designers who decide every aspect, from where the buttons should be placed to what materials the product should be manufactured from. Nokia Design's Stefan Pannenbecker tells us a bit about the development of the Nokia Lumia 800.

Designing The Nokia Lumia 800: An Interview With Stefan PannenbeckerNokia debuted a new form factor for its phones with the release of the Nokia N9 handset last year featuring a sleek sealed housing, fewer buttons, and raised, curved glass. At the time of its launch the executive vice president of Nokia Design, Marko Ahtisaari, visited South Africa to introduce the phone and hinted, though wouldn't confirm, that it was the beginning of something new for Nokia and we could possibly expect to see more in the future.

Marko's excitement became clear earlier this year when Nokia debuted its Lumia line of Windows Phone smartphones, which features a similar form factor and design considerations to that of the Nokia N9. Product design is an interesting area as it incorporates aesthetics, usability, and materials engineering and I was curious to know more about what went on behind the scenes that resulted in the housing we now see on the Nokia Lumia 800.

I composed some questions and sent them through, and Stefan Pannenbecker, vice president of Nokia Design, replied. Stefan leads the teams, which are based in Finland, the UK, China, and the US, that design Nokia's smart devices and he has a background in branding and industrial design, as well as experience working on three continents.

Designing The Nokia Lumia 800: An Interview With Stefan Pannenbecker

Are there any particular design considerations that need to be taken into account when designing a device that will run Windows Phone?

There are some Windows Phone specific requirements, such as the placement of the home key, the search key, and the back key on the front of the device.

Beyond that, our own specific requirements are really important too. Nokia has always been known to make reliable, easy-to-use phones. We design our phones for excellent antenna performance and great build quality so that every Nokia phone has, for example, great call reception, survives dropping on the floor and just generally feels really well balanced and put together. Beyond that we really push the idea of craft and extreme product making, which results in advanced and progressive designs such as the Nokia Lumia 800 and Nokia Lumia 900.

The phone is largely a sealed unit with a handful of buttons and slots. Why not a more traditional design?

With the Nokia N9, Nokia Lumia 800, and Nokia Lumia 900 we wanted to create better phones. To do that, we had to design them differently. We were sure that we could design a better phone by taking anything superfluous out and focusing on really executing the remaining elements in an optimal way. As a result the Nokia N9, Nokia Lumia 800, and Nokia Lumia 900 basically consist of two visible parts: a seamlessly executed polycarbonate monobody and a glass display.

With this level of reduction we achieved phones that from a mechanical point of view are executed brilliantly, and have a very distinctive, progressive and refined design.

What do you take into consideration when choosing a housing material? Why this choice?

The housings of the Nokia N9, Nokia Lumia 800, and Nokia Lumia 900 are made of polycarbonate, which is a high performance plastic. We chose to use this material because we like its properties. It is quite transparent for radio frequencies, which means the reception of the phone is really good when you talk or browse the Web. Additionally, polycarbonate is quite a solid plastic that does not get damaged easily and can be coloured through and through. This means scratches won't show easily.

We also do a lot of processing of the polycarbonate monobodies of these phones. For example, we drill the speaker holes at the bottom of the phone separately one by one. Polycarbonate really works well for this type of production method too.

Designing The Nokia Lumia 800: An Interview With Stefan Pannenbecker

How do you decide how wide and thick to make a phone?

In general, we always try to create the most compact phone possible. Often a key component such as the display or the battery will already "set the scene" for the size of the phone or its thickness. However, my team together with the engineers then looks at ways to build the phone in such a way that it will be elegant and compact.

Why did you decide to design the screen as a piece of raised glass?

The decision for the curved glass on the Nokia N9 and the Nokia Lumia 800 is based on the interaction with the phone's user interface. The swipe movement is a key interaction with the Nokia N9's screen. Swiping with your thumb from the edge of the display brings you back to the application launcher view from any place in the user interface. It is a really wonderfully crafted interaction and a key feature of the Nokia N9's user interface design. In order to make the swipe movement with a thumb as intuitive and pleasurable as possible we decided to create a display glass that would seamlessly integrate with the polycarbonate body by simply continuing its form. This resulted in a beautifully curved display glass.

In the case of the Nokia Lumia 800, we followed the same principle. We felt that the panorama mode in, for example, the Picture application or Marketplace, builds on a horizontal navigation model, which the seamlessly integrated glass really supports here as well.

Is it good product design if you have to put labels ("push" and "slide") on the slot covers to tell people how to use them?

The "push" and "slide" labels on the Nokia Lumia 800 are there to guide people when they first use their new phone and insert the SIM card. This function would usually be described in a user manual but we felt we should make sure that this operation is as easy as possible when setting the device up for the first time. Once people have gone through this set up sequence they'll remember it. That's why the labels are non-permanent and can be peeled off.

Designing The Nokia Lumia 800: An Interview With Stefan Pannenbecker

Why are all the buttons on the right-hand side? What determines button placement?

This is something we have driven for some time now, and it is in line with Microsoft's recommendations for Windows Phones as well. Ultimately our key consideration here is ease of use.

How do you test the phone to determine the materials' strengths and weaknesses and how robust it is over time?

We undertake a lot of tests to make sure that each phone we deliver to the market will stand the test of time, and work as well as look great even after a long time of intensive use.

One of these tests we call the drop test. This is a test where we drop the phone from a certain height onto a concrete surface in such a way that most types of impact scenarios are covered: flat on the display glass, left top corner impact, and so on.

Another test looks at the stability of the colour of the phone, for example under ultraviolet light or after heavy exposure to sun lotion. There is also a test that looks at how the surface of the phone responds to abrasion and how long it takes until the texture of the phone's housing changes.

We do these tests early on in the process to see what we need to improve for the final production model. Ultimately, we want people to be able to enjoy their Nokia phone knowing that it will last and look beautiful for a long time.

Special thanks to Stefan for his insights and comments. How do you feel about the direction Nokia is taking with the design of its handsets? Let us know in the comments.

Tags: #nokia, #technology

On The Internet
Nokia Lumia 800: Official Site | GSM Arena | Wikipedia

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