How do you bring a new technology to realization? How do you make it work in the ways that all its stakeholders need it to work: The communications service providers who deploy and manage it, the technicians who install it, and most importantly, for the end customers who will bring it into their homes and depend on it?
Head of Design Axel Meyer helps to answer those questions at Nokia. He and his small, global team have a unique vantage point from which they drive award-winning design that encompasses hardware, software and industrial design. They bring together the expertise of the company’s engineers, input from Nokia’s carrier customers, data, observations of end users and societal trends, then combine them to create devices that deliver high performance, simplicity and utility in a beautiful package.
The design team is where Nokia focuses not only on pure technology implementation, Meyer explains, but brings in the human factor: How is 5G becoming tangible? What are the problems with current technologies that a new product can solve? What are the macro trends, such as Covid-19, that are impacting people and society? “I think that the social aspect of design is remarkable, in that we do have a responsibility that we need to carry in our day-to-day work,” Meyer continues.
One of the ways that responsibility has manifested is in Nokia’s FastMile product line, which brings 4G/5G Fixed Wireless Access to the home for broadband connectivity – which became particularly crucial over the course of 2020, as people around the world turned to the internet for work, for school and for social connection amid the pandemic. In that context, connecting a previously unconnected home with broadband has profound meaning. “We care about the positive impact that our products have on the world. We identify solutions with real human value, that are greener and smarter, building a sustainable planet where opportunity is universal by connecting people, machines and devices,” Meyer says. “So the world can act together – that’s the purpose of Nokia.”
He knows how well the FastMile products perform firsthand, because one of the strategies of Nokia Design is that designers actually use the tools that they design in their own homes. Meyer, for example, has both a Fastmile Gateway and Nokia’s Wi-Fi Beacons that provide mesh network connectivity in the home. Using their own designs day-to-day helps designers to have a deeper understanding of their work – which, as Meyer points out, goes far beyond putting a pretty shell on a product to include, for example, the on-boarding and self-installation application that works with the FastMile Gateway.
“Our design goes end-to-end. It’s not like we only provide a beautifying vision of what the product should be,” he explains. “We actually roll up our sleeves and work with the engineers to solve problems and translate human needs into final product design in a holistic and broad sense. When you are engaged for 18 months or 24 months in creating and developing a new product, you have to understand the primary use case and be able to translate this into tangible solutions while collaborating with multi-disciplinary teams.”
He speaks of creating a “sense of Nokia-ness across the board,” from the moment a consumer receives the product, opens the box, sets it up and then lives with the device as a part of their household lives. That translation of multiple desires – for simplicity, for utility, for beauty – into a product and capabilities, comes from a deep understanding not only of design principles, but of the underlying technology and the needs of telecom providers and their customers, and successfully bringing them all to reside in a high-performance physical package. “That’s where the beauty comes,” Meyer says.
Nokia-ness, as he describes it, “is first, clarity of purpose. I think all of our products are purpose-driven, because there is a problem that we solve.” But clarity of purpose extends beyond the task of an individual product, he says, to the very reason why Nokia exists as a company. “We are not tied to a color. We are not tied to a shape,” Meyer continues. “We are tied to an approach of trying to deliver the very best product that we possibly can make, as a group, for the people out there. That conviction is what sets us apart. That element of abstraction, I think, is the most beautiful part. We are trying to always find the best possible solution and never giving up.
“When you see our products, the attention to detail, and the exceptional quality of materials is truly evident. From the entire ‘out of the box’ experience, to the way that we have engineered an intuitive on-boarding process. That,” he concludes, “is where you feel the Nokia-ness.”
The jury of the prestigious Red Dot global design competition had a chance to do that very thing. The jury of 50 international experts, who test and evaluate each submitted product, recognized Nokia FastMile and Nokia Wi-Fi products with multiple awards in recent years, and the jury comments speak to just how successful that Meyer and his team have been in achieving their goals. “The Nokia FastMile 5G Gateway has an astoundingly high performance. The design suits both modern and more traditional surroundings equally well,” the jury said in its assessment of the Gateway in 2019. In 2021, when Nokia received multiple awards, the jury commented that the 5G Fastmile Receiver has “an innovative design that allows flexible indoor and outdoor installation with optimal signal strength and high speeds,” while the Beacon Mesh Wi-Fi system was recognized for its “elegant” design and “good workmanship.” Also in 2021, Fastmile Gateway 3 received praise for both ease of use and its beauty: The jury called it “impressively easy to install” and “delightfully easy to operate” with a “clear, glossy look” that won the design nod.
For his part, Meyer says with a laugh that often, the Nokia design teams’ favorite elements of a design are things that cannot be seen – for example, in the Beacon 2, the team was able to merge cutting-edge Wi-Fi 6 technology in a single unibody chassis, injection-molded enclosure that made special allowances for air intake and outtake. “This is the type of design solution we love at Nokia,” he says. “Definitely, this is our best to date — but I always feel like our next product is going to be even better.”