Nokia Needs More Design, Less Engineering

I was just reading a recent New York Times article, The Engineer-Driven Culture of Nokia, about how Nokia is dropping its cell phone operating system in favor of Microsoft’s. That amounts to a failure of Nokia to keep up with the new wave of smartphones.

Why did Nokia lose its dominant position in cell phones? Engineering won over design.

The article quotes Adam Greenfield, a former head of design direction at Nokia:

The engineers at Nokia brag about the number of megapixels a new phone has. But they don’t understand that if you can’t find the button to use the camera on the phone, it doesn’t matter how many megapixels it is.”

I run into this problem a lot within companies. It’s a typical “engineering culture.” In these environments, functionality is the dominant focus of the product development organizations. While functionality is clearly important, it represents only one of the three components of experience.

Design cultures, on the other hand, address the requirements of all three aspects of an experience:

  • Functional: Does it do what people want it to do?
  • Accessible: How easy is it for people to do what they want to do?
  • Emotional: How does it make people feel?

Even if a product has all of the functionality that customers may want, it will still likely fail if it’s hard to use and/or customers don’t feel good about owning or using it.

The bottom line: Focus more on design, less on engineering

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about these topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

5 Responses to Nokia Needs More Design, Less Engineering

  1. MaryLou Roberts says:

    In addition, my experience with marketing people from Nokia suggests an obsessive focus on competition, especially Apple. I tried to make the argument that what customers wanted was more important than what Apple was doing, but I could see it was a loosing effort. If Nokia employees are cut as a result of the change, I’m sorry, but what is said about their culture seems absolutely on target.

  2. Great note, Bruce. A couple of other noteworthy items about Nokia’s approach at

    I wish them the best success of course, and hope they can turn around with the help of this new strategy. This is what happens when companies lose sight of their customers….

  3. Liz Greene says:

    Your post is fantastic but I think you’ve got the title wrong — I’d call this “Microsoft Needs More Design . . .”

    The failure of the Nokia OS to meet user experience needs is old news, and I think it was written on the wall quite some time ago that the hardware would be the subject of a Google versus Microsoft wrestling match, as those two titans scurry to snap up the non-Apple market share.

    What the headlines are really about is the failure of Microsoft to offer a relevant and well designed user experience and deliver what people want (apps and astounding functionality), so they’ve come to the point of having to pay Nokia a reported BILLION DOLLARS to adopt their OS. If they could design an amazing product with a fantastic experience and a robust app ecosystem like Apple and now Android have accomplished (which empowers the hardware to transcend the traditional limitations of a phone) then they wouldn’t have to pay handset manufacturers a mint to use their OS. Microsoft has a brand promise and positioning that more or less requires them to remain relevant to these little handheld computers we all carry now, but instead of earning that marketshare and relevancy they are now attempting to buy it.

    It’s really kinda sad. I’ve been a PC user since my first computer, but recently switched to Apple. I want to be able to leverage all my applications in sync across whichever of my devices I happen to be in front of (laptop, phone, tablet, or all three at the same time). That’s the new user expectation, whether Nokia and Microsoft are ready to believe it or not.

    I think we are perhaps watching dinosaurs go extinct in slow motion HD. I appreciate the business decision Nokia made if Microsoft made a ridiculously more flush offer than Google, but history is likely to report that Nokia made the wrong call. Oops!

    • Bruce Temkin says:

      Hi Liz: That’s a good observation; thanks for sharing! I’d rather see Microsoft develop a compelling “open” alternative to Apple and Blackberry, than to replicate Apple’s closed platform. Having said that, it is much easier to develop a cohesive experience on a closed platform where you control all of the elements. But I don’t think Apple (or RIM) is the real competitor for Microsoft here. In the space of open mobile OS operating systems, Google is Microsoft’s main competition. Microsoft clearly needs to figure out how to compete with Google, which seems to be an Internet-centric version of Microsoft. Microsoft’s big challenge is to provide compelling experiences that win over customers in an age where digital access moves from PC-installed software to mobile and cloud-based computing.

  4. A strong corner is sure:
    Its too meak on Nokia’s front to bow down to MS. They are themselves ringing their death bell due to 2 clear reasons. 1. Why will MS not replace Nokia’s H/w with their own phone H/W in future after engulfing Nokias s/w – Maemo/Meego/Symbian/QT ?? No agreement can stop this ! 2. Even if MS doesn’t, Nokia is inviting death. Lots ot Troajon horses(we already know one, 😉 viruses, hogs plaguing down its futuristic Windows phones ! Doest it hope to dodge end users anger/frustrations/cost overburden against other excellent competitor phones ? Then where is Nokia’s(Or its creator/owners ) Identity/Ego ? Now not only ego sublimes but the business also vanishes !

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