Making cellphones look great

itp.net meets with Jonne Harju, design manager at Nokia, to talk about the N97 smartphone and future of mobile phone design

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By  Vineetha Menon Published  June 4, 2009

Meeting Jonne Harju for the first time, I was struck by how relaxed he looked despite flying into Dubai just a few hours earlier and rushing to put the final touches on a presentation.

Nokia’s design manager had come down from Finland for the celebrated N97 launch in the Middle East. It’s a phone that he’s obviously proud of and why wouldn’t he be? After all, he designed it.

Considered the flagship of the Nseries range of Nokia mobile phones, the N97 comes with a full QWERTY keyboard and a large “3.5 touchscreen with a customisable display that can feature widgets to preferred web services and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Its most distinguishable design feature is its horizontal tilt-slide form factor, with a 35-degree screen tilt making it easier to view the phone’s display and reducing glare significantly.

It’s all in a day’s work for Harju, who grew up in Lapland and started drawing when he was just eight years old. That passion helped him get into the College of Arts and Crafts and eventually complete a Master’s degree in industrial design from the Swedish Umeå University before embarking on his design career armed with the right skills and a keen eye.

Before joining Nokia’s mobile phone unit, he worked for a car manufacturer and as a consultant for a small R&D company that saw him designing plastic products as well as double-decker sleeping wagons for trains. Understandably, working on Nokia Nseries mobile phones was a completely different experience for Harju with the design process beginning and ending with consumers.

“In a small company, working on small products, you have two weeks for a plastic product; but Nokia is much more bigger. We start from the people - finding out what their lives are and then create experiences for them,” Harju says, adding that his design philosophy involves connecting emotions to a product.

“Looks are important but it’s not only about the surface; it’s also about what it does. You can look at a beautiful product but you need to get an emotion. Simple stuff like motorcycles…it’s not only about the design, but you can hear certain bikes and go ‘wow’. It there’s no emotion, I think it’s missing something,” he muses.

While the slide-and-tilt screen is the most obvious design element for the Nokia N97, Harju points out that there a number of other factors that stand out such as the phone’s compact size, shortcut keys on the side, the sliding camera cover that protects the lens and even getting the balance just right so that the phone is comfortable to hold.

Still, he accepts and understands that not everyone will feel as enthusiastic about the smartphone as he does. “For our products, it’s not that one design is for everyone. For example, my grandmom would not use the N97 – it’s just not her. Some products are a perfect match for people, but there are always people who are not fully satisfied,” he explains.

Describing the N97 as ‘truly personal’, Harju admits that the phone he designed is surprisingly a perfect match for him. “I didn’t expect it to be (a perfect match) but it is. It’s my mobile computer - I have about 2,000 songs on it and photographs of my family from five years ago. It’s almost like carrying my family album with me. The emotional connection is massive.”

Looking into his beautifully designed crystal ball, Harju believes that how we explore the internet will determine the future of mobile phone design. “It creates needs for bigger displays,” he explains. “There are a lot of things happening and we’re stepping into the next generation in mobile computing.”

“I think we’re already on the way to a ‘dream phone’ and the N97 is as close as it gets now,” he adds with a smile.

3456 days ago
Amir Qayyum

It looks good I hope its as good as using it, when it comes in the market, Price factor will also depend on the sales of htis product. I wish they could have had the option of a Dual Sim then it wud have been the ultimate phone. I have more suggestions if i can get his email ill sned him directly.

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