After over sixteen years of design for Nokia and over ten years building and leading Nokia's company wide design group, Frank Nuovo has decided to independently pursue new product and brand development with a sharp focus on design and styling excellence.
Today, Nuovo works with Vertu as its chief designer, overseeing product strategy and design together with all of the brand's talented specialists.
He now operates through a new studio in Southern California called Design Studio Nuovo.
Dexigner interviewed Nuovo about Vertu and Industrial Design.
After working 16 years for Nokia you decided to pursue a different path in your career. Can we learn more about the reasons that led you to make such a decision?
There are numerous reasons that when combined made me decide to move on from the position of Design Chief at Nokia:
First was that I wanted to have more time personally designing rather than leading a large global team. I started out as a hands-on designer and wanted to return to personal growth and exploration within that kind of focused activity. As Design Chief you develop broad design strategies and organizational issues. Having done that for many years already I wanted to return to my roots. Design Chief at Nokia is arguably one of the best design chief jobs in the world so it was very difficult to step away.
Second, turning 45 years old. I have many product ideas outside of mobile phones I wanted develop and am now pursuing. My dream from building Vertu was that some day I would focus just on Vertu. I feel that staying in the highest possible tier of quality and design with Vertu is the ultimate opportunity to continue with my mobile phone efforts. Think of a designer going from Ford or VW to Ferrari or Aston Martin. Why not?
Thirdly, I felt Nokia needed its Design Chief to sit in Europe and actually in Finland much of the time with the other sr. executives. That was my own determination after sixteen plus years of commuting internationally and I was not prepared to move my family from our lovely home in Southern California. That point relates to the most important reason;
I wanted to spend more time working from my home studio so I can see and be with my family more often. Understanding that I have spent from 50% and more of my time away from home over the last sixteen or so years and my kids are growing up fast.
How did/does this situation affect your relationship with Vertu?
I originated the Vertu concept and designs while Chief of Design at Nokia. But it was a complimentary situation for Vertu for me to leave my post at Nokia - Actually the best thing to focus directly on Vertu needs. Prior to leaving Nokia my guidance was that I either had to take on a greater role at Vertu or give it up to someone else. I was not prepared to give it up so here I am! The Vertu brand was created on its own merit brand wise and style wise, so it is healthy to evolve it as a holistic design challenge. Purposefully my influence was to steer the design and brand elements as far from Nokia as possible when it made sense to do so. Some attributes -such as core technologies and user interface principles are for instance the best in the world and common between the two brands. There is no reason to artificially change something which is already excellent...
Compared to most cell-phones which become obsolete in a relatively short period, Vertus are designed to be "last" more in an extremely competitive market. How do you achieve that?
Our lasting quality has mainly to do with the design, material selection and construction of our outer casing. These materials, if treated reasonably well will last for many years as would any fine watch. Core technology that supports the essential functionalities of a GSM mobile phone has not changed much at all in a decade. The number of features has increased over time but lately have also stabilized quite a bit. Vertu was created in anticipation of feature sets eventually maturing settling down and the demand for a highly refined product would emerge. Highly refined and made to last.
Can you describe the relationships between different disciplines in Vertu? What is the nature of the interaction between different design disciplines and engineering?
From the start I envisioned Vertu to be led by Design and Engineering and the authenticity that follows a pure approach. Through my relationship with the Chief Engineer Hutch Hutcheson we have achieved a great bond and common goal in the creation of Vertu products which is shared with the others in our team. With great respect to the need and importance to have extraordinary marketing to communicate our message as we have done with Vertu, the foundation of our values is found with the concurrent design and engineering concerns working together to create the very best possible product. There is great pride within the engineering team with each accomplishment.
We know from Nokia that you have an extremely user-oriented design perspective. How do you adapt this vision to Vertu phones?
Quite simply the Vertu customer expects an experience, which is extraordinary in its delivery of every aspect from performance to service. When you hold a Vertu you have no doubt about its uniqueness. The quality of the experience is found on each of the layers from the point of sale to using the Vertu Concierge. As stated before, all of the principles of easy to use that were learned in my years at Nokia are applied with Vertu. In fact, Vertu still benefits from Nokia's continued learning in all areas of technology and interface design. We make it even more special for our Vertu customers.
Vertus are generally deemed to be "luxury communications products"... How do you combine the notion of "luxury" with industrial design, which is generally expected to be for masses?
Industrial Design is a discipline which involves the physical design (design being industrial solutions) of objects, products, and experiences of all kinds and that serves all categories or segments. Again a car designer may start out with a mass brand such as Volkswagen and land up designing a luxurious Bentley. Luxury brands such as Hermes started with the functional high quality design of horses saddles. The travel cases of LuisVuitton started with innovative material solutions that were simply the best in protecting your goods while traveling. Put simply design is design and luxury comes from the commitment to create highly crafted high quality solutions.
There must be a fine line between luxury and extravagancy, how do you draw that line?
Extravagant luxury involves either the extreme work of an artisan and likely involves precious and or rare materials. There is no simple line drawn between luxury and extravagance, but the extremes are easy to recognize. When fine art meets function, we have taken the highest form of decoration for an object. Extravagant design in my view supports fine artists of all kinds around the world. Whether that art is sculpted in marble, painted on the ceiling of a building or into a phone it will eventually be accepted at the same level. Looking at historical relics of extravagant pouring vessels in the museums of the world (at one time a new technology) and these prove the evolution of function toward luxurious extravagance on objects found around the world...
What is your vision for Vertu for the future?
Vertu is arguably the premier luxury brand of today and for the future. Vertu has pioneered merging the hand crafted of luxury with high technology to levels never before seen and is poised to lead in this as we move into the future. Vertu products will evolve from its core and will expand over time. First however it needs to grow close to home and continue its quest for excellence in luxury communications products.
How do you define the relationship between the exterior styling and interface design in a cell phone?
They are of course intrinsically linked. You cannot separate them. You cannot ignore conventions established over time which bring comfort to the users of our products. Having said that, you need to be creative and push boundaries when and where you can evolve and support new functionalities.
With every passing day interfaces are becoming more and more significant, whereas some people think that industrial "design as we know it" is slowly disappearing from high-tech products... what is your perspective on this issue? What does this transformation involve?
Design is simply evolving from the early industrial age into modern products. So much has been achieved in design - standards of excellence are very high and a good designer builds on existing knowledge and examples. Our digital tools have evolved dramatically where we can simulate anything we dream of in a very short time. This means we get to the point much more quickly and we can now focus as much on the experience and intricacies of using the device as on the basics of its construction and manufacturing. I think the old marketing strategy for renewal that demanded changing the face of a product every six months is changing into creation of designs which last, are made with higher quality materials. People will take care of high quality products. That takes a great deal more design thought that you would provide to something that is has a short life (typical of mass-market products of the last couple decades).
What do you think about elderly and mobile devices... Although some efforts have been made, people above a certain age still have problems using such devices...
In just ten years a whole group of elderly people have become familiar with many new technologies. My own father who is a young 77 years old is very familiar with computers and phones of all kinds. It's the nature of change that requires learning and designers need to simply provide transitional considerations when a new technology is introduced so it can be learned by those who chose to face the change. Remember that many elderly people just do not see the need for radical new technologies as their world turns more slowly and, they have done fine without it for all of their life. It's the younger generations who face the competitive drivers that require having all the latest "tools". I hope that when I am in my 80's I can choose to simply ignore new technology and feel good about that decision.
Where is the mobile world going? Will all-in-one products dominate the market eventually? What about wearability?
My view is the all in one product will be there. Over sized product will be there. Ultra thin, short and all sorts of shaped products will be there. Folds, flips, slips, twists and slides will be there. All colors and models - just about any thing you can dream up will be there. I support all of the variability and chose personally to focus on products like our Vertu designs that, regardless of form factor are made to last and to provide an extraordinary user experience.
What is your next step? What are your future plans?
Firstly I remain loyal to Vertu. From there I will continue to develop a series of unique new opportunities which utilize new technologies and focus on very high end experiences. Among the projects at the moment is a passion project working on a spacecraft interior for a new era of space tourism. Additionally a number of high end consumer products which are complimentary to Vertu and will help with my quest to continue growing as a designer.