Nokia's global design sense

Nokia (NOK) is looking to add 2 billion new users by the end of the decade by reaching out to emerging markets, including China, Brazil, Indonesia, Africa, and India (see, 8/6/07, 'Nokia Wins with Wide-Angle Vision').

Nokia operates nine satellite design studios located within targeted nations where researchers and designers work to customize its approach to each market, blending macro trends with micro insights. A new studio was just announced in Bangalore, India; others already operate within China and Brazil.

In late September, Nokia plans to release a line of seven phones designed for these emerging markets. Antti Kujala, a design director at Nokia's headquarters in Espoo, Finland, spearheaded the strategy and design development. He spoke to Nandini Lakshman in New Delhi about the nuances of designing for emerging markets and about future mobile design trends. An edited transcript of their conversation follows:

What role does ethnography play in Nokia's design strategy across a wide variety of global markets‾ (See, 3/14/2007 Nokia's Design Research for Everyone)

Our process starts with a team of anthropologists and psychologists working in our design group. They spend time with specific types of people around the world to understand how they behave and communicate. This helps us to understand better and to spot early signals of new patterns of behavior that could be harnessed into mobile communication. Our designers often go out into the field to understand the world they are designing for. All of these observations are brought into the design process to inspire and inform our ideas.

We have an advanced design team that is looking 5 to 15 years out, working on spotting and predicting megatrends in society and coming up with thought-provoking ideas on what mobile design could do to influence and react to these.

We also have a large research group within Nokia design. It looks at long-term, macro, and societal trends as well as more short-term trends around colors, fashions, and textures. We identify local, country-specific trends, but we also look across countries to identify similarities in lifestyles and global trends. In practice, this means localized colors, surface textures, and user-interface content such as wallpaper, services, or ring tones. In our emerging-markets research, a key finding was that everybody wanted a range of options.

How do tastes in India and China differ‾

In India, there's a lot of aspiration in a purchase. It's about looks, style, and projecting the right image. [A phone is] not just a status symbol but about people trying to acquire things to move to the next level.

It has to be the right bargain in China. So you have to hit certain price points. Africa is a lot like that, too. The next big thing is going to be how to understand these global traits and translate them into functionality and usefulness while designing a product.

Did you adapt any global design traits for emerging-market customers‾

Take the Nokia 2630, which is an entry-level phone. We wanted to create a phone that focused on style and fashion, bringing the same sleek design that you see in other parts of our range to this market while at the same time making it affordable. We wanted to avoid the look of some of the other designs produced for this market, which tend to look "cheaper""”square boxes that look brittle and lack robustness.


We created an organic shape with rounded edges and a curved back so that it fits in the hand beautifully. We also used special finishes and color contrasts to create a sleek and glossy look and feel. The dimensions of the phone also played an important role; it is one of our slimmest.

Were there any surprises in Nokia's emerging-markets research‾

For several years our anthropologists have been studying how people in rural areas overcome some of the barriers to communication they face in their daily lives. One of the key issues was cost, which meant that mobiles were shared amongst villages or families.

What impact did this finding have on the design of the phones‾

First, it challenged a basic assumption that we all have"”that a mobile phone is something owned and used by one person. Building on this, we designed the Nokia 1200 and Nokia 1208, which have shared use as the top priority. They are robust enough to deal with many different people using them, while we added a shared address book so that each member of a family or village could save their own contacts and numbers separately from others. There's also a call tracker that allows people to preset a time or cost limit on each call.

And they have certain physical features to reinforce their robustness"”a seamless keypad to protect them from dust, and special grip areas to make them easier to hold in hot conditions.

There is also a range of features created with the users in mind. Both of these phones have a one-touch flashlight (in case of power outages), [use] localized languages, and [have] a demo mode that allows people who have never used a mobile or have limited experience to quickly learn how to master the phone.

You just announced that a new satellite design studio will open in Bangalore. Will you collaborate with local designers‾

The Bangalore design studio is located on the campus of a local design school, Shristi. We want to work with young designers, and we will employ students from the school.

We have nine such designer studios around the world. They help us to find out more about a country's culture, which we can then share with our designers globally to make our products. But our studios are not just about design"”they also incorporate cultural insights, market insights, and consumer findings.

Lakshman covers India business for BusinessWeek.

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