An Interview with Frank Nuovo

The man behind the world’s best-selling mobile phone and former Vice President and Chief of Design at Nokia, sat down to talk design, business and how he has teamed up with OrbitSound to re-invent stereo sound.

You’re famous for making beautifully designed user-centric products, what’s your favorite product on the market at the moment that fits that bill?

The new i8 BMW is a compelling opportunity for BMW to rewrite the design of a hybrid experience.

What have you been working on recently? 

For the last couple of years, I have been developing the Spaced360 speaker with the engineers at Orbitsound, a British audio company.  The airSOUND™ Technology which is inside Spaced360 effectively re-invents stereo by splitting existing two-channel music three ways and spraying it around a room, with full spatial quality. With revolutionary technology, I wanted to design something that looked and expressed these qualities, which are so unique from what is out there on the market.

Born 1961; you’ve heard some incredible music come and go, what will you be listening to through your Spaced360?

Being a child of the sixties, I rock the classics with fond memories of listening to Boston at Carmel beach and cruising to Steely Dan and the YellowJackets.  Like most folks I try to re-live my youth whenever possible through music. Every genre has its moment. Lately I enjoy listening to groups like Muse, new offerings from Lorde and unique artists like Imogene Heap, before I turn back to the classics of the 70’s and 80’s.

Can you briefly talk us through your design process?

Ultimately, understand the problem and the need.  Discover who the user is and how they will or might approach using the product. Define the brands role (or create it) and how it relates directly with the product. Find the magic. Uncover the possibilities of uniqueness and authenticity.  Like most designers, I can’t help but dream big from the moment a project begins.

What was the inspiration for your luxury mobile phone brand Vertu?

The inspiration of Vertu was based on a designer’s dream, (my dream) to create and build the best possible mobile solution with a focus on materials, manufacturing and personal service. It was also a direct path preparing for the world of wearable technology. Stylistically, Vertu is inspired by classic watch design, automotive design and even aerospace design and engineered materials shapes and forms.  There is also an element of classic even retro styling combined with the high technology and functionality and form

Smartwatches: future or fad?

They are definitely the future. The features and benefits are growing. From digital health sensors to simple “Art of the Glance” convenience, as we have proposed with my design of the Meta 1, there is a growing consumer awareness of how these wearable extensions will access and take greater benefit from your personal digital world.

Given your eye for design, what inspires your personal style?

I like a variety: art, architecture, technology culture – it all inspires me. I look back at classic examples of design and technology as well as anticipate what will be going forward.  Minimalist environments and industrial design are wonderful but one style does not fit all. Ultimate simplicity typically lacks a spirit or character. Apple design for instance is universally liked. It does nothing to polarize and it is widely adored. I think its great but it’s a generic, white label approach to design.

I like to involve greater levels of poetic attachment and emotional connection – individual expression at a much higher level than most technology designers are comfortable with. This kind of design might polarise views, the critics will love it or hate it, but that’s OK – it’s more human.

Function over form, or form over function?

Balance is required for the long haul with usability, and with a lasting and responsible view towards the functionality and quality of materials and production. If you want to make a quick impression, form will get you there, but for me it’s about the long game.

I worked very hard with Vertu for many years to pioneer the use of Sapphire glass on phones so they would not scratch or break easily. It was worth the effort.  It’s both beautiful and functional, a hard balance to find. I led the creation of the worlds best selling phone, the Nokia 1100 – over 250 million sold of one design – more than any other consumer electronics product ever created. You rarely hear about that from anyone.

What does being a modern gentleman mean to you?

Take time to think about your place and how you can positively impact other people. Listen more than you speak but contribute to the dialogue with kindness.  Achieve your success in harmony with a goal towards helping others.  Ultimately it’s still about being considerate, kind and generally helpful. I’m a traditionalist.

What comes first; the integrity of your design or the need to turn a profit?

First and foremost like anything in life it’s about honesty and authenticity in what you create as well as creative expression and innovation. It’s the quality of the execution, the excellence of the design in-line with the intended target that counts.

What do you wear on your wrist?

It will be released in early August.  With the Meta 1, I can even control the music streaming from my smartphone to my Spaced360 speaker. Very cool.

You predicted the rise of the smartphone and developed the early stages of the iPad and iPhone years before their release, what you think is going to be the next big revolution in the tech world?

I am working on two important revolutions in the tech world. It involves the massive new area of digital health and the evolution of your mobile life to include connections to and awareness of the IOT, or the Internet Of Things. From toasters to washing machines –your smart products, smart office and smart homes are evolving quickly. Specifically, we are looking towards mobile, wearable sensing and monitoring – providing a mobile powered dashboard of your health and personal status.  Both my design of the Spaced360 speaker and my Meta 1 smart watch play a role in the internet of things.

What phone do you use?

I am currently using two of my last Vertu designs, the Vertu Constellation touch and the Vertu T which are both Android smartphones. I also test quite a few phones like the latest Samsung smartphones. I have to keep up with the latest from around the world.

Frank has just launched his newest product, the Spaced360 speaker, in association with Audio Enthusiasts and OrbitSound. Available from Spaced360 for £250.

Further Reading