Pure, progressive and principled: What goes into a modern Nokia handset?

Credit: Nokia

HMD Global’s Head Designer gives us some insights into the way that the company designs its new Nokia handsets and tells us about how they tackled trypophobia with the Nokia 9 PureView.

As someone who writes about tech, it’s easy to become a little fatigued at the sheer volume of Nokia smartphones HMD Global have pushed to market since they took control of the brand. At first, there was only the Nokia 3,5 and 6. Then came the 8. Then the 1, 2, 4 and the Sirocco. Though each handset has their merits, things inevitably begin to blur into one another with time.

Still, after speaking with Raun Forsyth, the current Head of Design at HMD Global, I was surprised to learn just how much thought, design and effort goes into the look of each new Nokia handset.

Speaking to a small group of international media at this year’s Mobile World Congress, Forsyth distilled the underlying philosophy of modern Nokia design into three principles: pure, progressive and principled.

“We like to strike a balance of stuff that’s very fit for purpose and straightforward and expected but balanced with something that’s very pure and emotive and beautiful.”

“We’re engineers as much as we are designers,” he says.

“Unlike an automotive designer that would just draw a beautiful curve and say ‘I want this line’,” Forsyth says him and his team are “fighting for milometers.”

Credit: Nokia

He says that HMD's design team try to imbue their products with common elements of Scandinavian design (Forsyth explicitly cites Aalto’s Vase as a common reference point) but also try their best to work with local regions to try and match devices to local tastes.

“We design for all but not everyone wants the same things,” he says.

Practicality is also a concern. Forsyth told us that each device has to endure over fifty different durability tests on its way to market.

According to him, “all our devices have to pass over 200 one-meter drops and that’s not the same for our competition.”

Of course, the new Nokia 9 PureView has another unique challenge: trypophobia. For the unfamiliar, the condition prescribes an irrational fear of clusters of small holes. It's not exactly a common condition but it's not all that rare either.

“We’re very aware of this condition that some people do have but I think in the treatment and how we dealt with that detail was that we were very aware of somehow downplaying it.”

Forsyth says that the team played around with several different camera array configurations before settling on the final product, which features five-lenses, no "camera-bump" and entirely smooth glass back.

Asked what he thinks of the esoteric, zero-port, concept smartphones that Meizu and others have been shopping around in recent months, Forsyth concedes they’re “lovely”.

Credit: Nokia

“We have a few of those. Are we allowed to make them yet? I don’t know. We’ll have to see.”

Referencing HMD’s habit of re-releasing and iconic Nokia phones, Forsyth admits that “I would like to keep referencing the classics but I would like to create some new classics as well.”

However, whether that new classic will be a flagship or a mid-tier device is still up in the air.

“Back in December 2016, - that was officially our start date - the agreed approach was that we would really deliver to the everyman. Not go after flagships that no one can afford.”

Disclosure - PC World Australia's coverage of this year's MWC in Barcelona was sponsored by Oppo who covered the costs of our flights and accommodation.

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Fergus Halliday
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