Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Conversation with Raphael Grignani of Nokia Design about Homegrown

Building sustainability into Nokia products ...

"Rachel Hinman [RH]: I’m speaking today with Raphael Grignani of Nokia design to talk about Homegrown, a design lead sustainability initiative you are heavily involved with at Nokia. Let’s start with an introduction. Tell us about your role in Nokia

Raphael Grignani [RG]: I’m currently leading the Nokia Design Service and UI Design team in the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to that I was a designer in Nokia’s advance design team in Los Angeles where Homegrown emerged.

... RH: Can you talk a little bit about how you used statistical data to inspire and drive the design process?

RG: Well, I think the numbers were so big and so powerful that it was quite easy to translate them into products, UI, or services concepts. We focused on the implication of the numbers.

Our first concept is a remade phone that utilizes materials that already exist above the earth’s crust. Another case study looks at how we can design for digital life. Another direction was to explore concepts that use less energy. Another was about interfaces that are designed specifically for illiterate people.

How do we encourage people to keep their products longer? The “Wears in not Out” is a device concept designed to encourage people to keep their mobile devices longer while reducing Nokia’s environmental dust-to-dust footprint.

RH: Can you talk in more detail about some of the key concepts that came out of this project?

RG: The first one that was presented in Barcelona by our CEO was Remade. A lot of the talk on sustainability is around materials and Remade shows how we can utilize materials that already exist above the earth’s crust.

With Remade, Andrew Gartrell (Homegrown project lead and Remade father) pushed design beyond skin deep aesthetics. He considered covers, key mats, and displays but also engine, connectors, and other components. We discovered that a typical mobile phone contains around 44 of the 117 elements currently known to science. Andrew’s approach was to de-construct everything and rebuild it from scratch using recycled materials and sustainable technologies — from the inside out.

Another aspect of Homegrown that is really interesting is the work we did around prototyping. Andrew designed in CAD over 100 versions of Remade and prototyped 36 — which could be considered obsessive — but it was through that constant consideration and iteration that we were able to arrive at something that was great. Prototyping allowed us to confront our designs — asking ourselves, “Is this the best we can do? What can we reduce? Have we found the essence? What can we make better or what can we make differently?” We questioned every bit of the concepts throughout the prototyping process. Now we can explain every bit of the design; we can rationalize every aspect of it.

For example, the final design of remade has a fluted aluminum casing because it uses less material. An earlier version had a printed key mat, but the printing fades with time and requires post processing. Perforated numbers on an aluminum sheet will last longer and can be made all at once.

If you want to make something that is pure and true, you need to pay attention to every detail. You need to be ruthless in the way you make decisions and that is hard to do unless you prototype.

RH: Another thing that you mentioned Homegrown addressed was the idea of challenging the disposable culture around mobile phones and creating ones that were designed to keep longer.

RG: As people’s lives become more and more digital with social networks, emails, digital photos and music, we wanted to explore how people could potentially upgrade their devices digitally rather than physically. The physical part can then be approached differently. Essentially it is a reflection on where the value is� Is it the object or the content?

With a focus on human universals, the “People-first” interface concept strips away the complexity of applications, folders, and unpredictable navigation with simpler universally understood organizing principles: time, lists and faces.

RH: What aspects of Homegrown were about interface design? What are some of the specific interface or interaction design parts of the project that you think are important to speak to?

RG: Each of the concepts has a unique interface based on the design principles and what we were aiming to demonstrate. We tried to find the essence for each of them and design a beautiful solution. If you look at them, they’re actually quite similar.

With all the interfaces, we focused on the idea of mobile essentials, which basically is allowing people to connect whether through voice or through text. We tried to think about how we could narrow down what was on the phone based on what was essential and using the natural features inherent in a phone.

For example: a camera. Cameras are good for capturing memories. Most of the mobile phones now have a camera and there are numerous benefits to that feature. It allows users to capture moments, but also to capture faces. So instead of adding Rachel in my phonebook by typing your name and your number, I can use an image of you which might be more efficient and much more friendly to use — especially for people who can’t read. We know that people recognize faces much faster than text or numbers.

Another essential feature was a calculator, which was something we kept in mind when thinking about a phone that will help connecting the next 3 billion people. We knew from research that calculators are essential in negotiating price. In China, when somebody is at the market, they pass around a calculator. That is the way it works — so a calculator on a phone is essential.

RH: You mentioned that your CEO announced Homegrown in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress. How did a grassroots design project like Homegrown make it all the way up to the CEO of Nokia?

RG: Alastair Curtis, our Design Chief, was really instrumental in this. He just pushed really hard for us.

It’s also, I think, much bigger than Homegrown. It shows how the position of design within Nokia has changed dramatically in the past two years. Nokia design is now involved in strategic decisions.

It also shows that Nokia is seriously acting on sustainability. We’re already doing a lot in terms of corporate responsibility, factories, products, but now it shows that we are also taking action right from design.

RH: Since Homegrown has been released within Nokia, what has happened?

RG: We’ve been talking to people inside and outside Nokia about the project. We’ve been trying to share our experience, principles, motivation, and the story behind the project. The biggest impact we have had is showing people that it’s actually simpler than it appears to be. A small change, a tiny change, with Nokia scale will have a big impact.

RH: There are a lot of people in the design field interested in sustainability, but I sense there is also a feeling not knowing of how to even begin or to start. What’s been very inspiring about your project was the fact that you were motivated and passionate about something and decided to do it yourself. I’m curious if you have any advice for people out there in the design world who want to make a difference like this? How do you advise they start?

RG: I think you need to start with the things you care about and are personal to you. Start simple. Like one step at a time. None of the ideas from Homegrown are especially radical. We’re not leapfrogging anything. Start simple. Just change a small thing and see what happens.

What we’ve really learned here is that a small thing by big numbers is probably the right way to go. And that’s maybe a unique context for Nokia because we’re so big. But even in your industry if you change something small, and do it immediately and simply, then you’ll probably see results pretty quickly. If you’re waiting to revolutionize your product or create something that is incredibly different it’s very unlikely that it’s going to happen. Start simple and build upon it.

Rachel Hinman is a mobile design strategist for Adaptive Path. With over a decade of design industry experience, she is a strong believer in approaching mobile design and strategy from an empathic, human-centered perspective.

...RH: Can you talk a little bit about how you used statistical data to inspire and drive the design process?

RG: Well, I think the numbers were so big and so powerful that it was quite easy to translate them into products, UI, or services concepts. We focused on the implication of the numbers.

Our first concept is a remade phone that utilizes materials that already exist above the earth’s crust. Another case study looks at how we can design for digital life. Another direction was to explore concepts that use less energy. Another was about interfaces that are designed specifically for illiterate people."    (Continued via adaptive path, Rachel Hinman)    [Usability Resources]

Homegrown Mobile Phone - Usability, User Interface Design

Homegrown Mobile Phone

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