Meet the legendary Nokia 3310 designer with a plan to green Europe’s tech

The father of the ‘indestructible’ Nokia 3310 has plans to design the world’s first truly sustainable smartphone. This week META had a chat with him to discuss his vision and the meaning of ‘eco-design’.

Remember the Nokia 3310? “Falls to the floor, breaks the floor“, the joke goes.

Durability and reliability were key features in the design of mobile phones in the early 2000s.

But that’s not quite what we see today, campaigners have argued recently.

This week META talked to mobile phone pioneer Tapani Jokinen, who has designed some of the world’s most popular models – including the Nokia 3310. Here he tells us about his work and how better smartphones can benefit the environment and society as a whole.Credit: KnowYourMeme

Photo credit: KnowYourMeme

How important is sustainability in modern design?

Sustainability must be a central component of design because it benefits people, the planet and our society, including businesses.

Today everything is designed but unfortunately only a few things are designed well. This is what I call a misuse of creativity.

Many designers make products that are meant to become waste rather than truly benefit people.

We will have to up our game and design our way out of linear systems and into circular systems, where we avoid waste, make products that last and recycle as much as possible.  It’s about driving positive impact through design; it’s about maximising products’ use and lifespan while reducing their environmental impact. And this means changing the way we design, produce, use, reuse and recycle products.

Sustainability is the greatest challenge in design, but we are here to overcome it because there´s no Planet B! As a father and designer it is our generation’s responsibility to clean up today´s mess and build a better future for our kids.

80% of the environmental impacts of products are determined at design stage. This puts great responsibility on designers. Do you think policy makers could do more to facilitate your work and mission?

The transition to a circular economy requires changes in the system and in the way we conceive branding – the way of working, manufacturing, consuming and making business. This prompts us to come up with ‘ecovations’ to solve the problems of today.

So eco-design is fundamental, but it is also a bit like a team sport: It requires a holistic, collaborative and multi-disciplinary approach across different departments and policy areas.

In this sense, I believe we need a comprehensive education system that goes beyond the technicality of design. EU policy makers should increase funding and support for educational programmes as well as sustainable hardware startups and small and medium-sized enterprises that are driving sustainable development.

At the moment, one of the responsibilities which I am most proud of is training professional designers and design enthusiasts to solve complex eco-design challenges. Students and new designers have the right mindset and know how, but the biggest challenge is to get a wider range of professionals to join training courses aimed at embracing eco-design. In my project with German research centre Fraunhofer IZM, Ecodesign Learning Factory, we are doing just this. We apply ‘lifecycle thinking’ pared with ‘design thinking’ to drive sustainability-led innovation.

The Nokia 3310 is an iconic mobile phone, known to this day for its durability and resistance. When you first conceived its design, were you inspired by the idea of a circular economy?

In 1998, when I made the first sketches for the Nokia 3310, the term ‘circular economy’ was not as widely known. However, quality and reliability as well as social and environmental responsibility were embedded in Nokia’s values and design DNA. It takes a great team, professional pride and passion to make the best phones on the market.

My goal was to create a phone that consumers would see as reliable and durable, vibrant and youthful, with Xpress-on covers to enhance personalisation. The second goal was to make it friendly and sympathetic – elements that were expressed through a round design with soft corners and good grip. The Nokia 3310 has a strong iconic smile element on front where I integrated all functional keys to make it look and feel more user-friendly. I called it visual ergonomics – when the object communicates how intuitive and easy to use it is.

Do you think Europe is ready to change its production and consumption patterns to reflect their environmental cost, and therefore transition to a circular economy?

Yes, definitely, and Europe can spearhead this positive change. I think progressive policy makers can unlock the potential of the circular economy through EU-wide programmes and regulations, which will in turn give businesses a competitive advantage.

I believe in rewarding rather than punishing, and combining new and traditional ways to motivate brands, manufactures and customers to make sustainable choices.

EU Ecodesign and labelling measures are important tools that can support businesses and people in the transition to a circular economy. We need minimum requirements to guarantee that manufacturers create durable, reparable, toxic-free and recyclable products.

All new phones should be designed to be upgraded, and key components such as batteries should be made easier to replace and repair.

Labels should then display resource efficiency ratings, similarly to labels for energy-related products. Labelling can make it easier for customers to compare products and choose those that have the lowest environmental impact and the longest warranty period.

But we also need to improve waste management. When a product reaches the end of its lifecycle it is important that we can collect it and recycle it properly. A good design can set us on the right path from the beginning by creating products that are meant to last longer and are easy to recycle. But deposit-return schemes and economic incentives to improve the collection of waste are also necessary.

How does your current work fit into this vision?

I am currently working on a project called Puzzlephone, where our goal is to make long-lasting and upgradeable smartphones that can be repaired and customised.

Our vision of Puzzlephone is to bring sustainability and circularity into the smartphones market.

Modular design can expand the lifespan of smartphones and thereby significantly reduce e-waste. Puzzlephone’s ‘sustainable-by-design ethos’ embraces all stages of the product with a user-centered design approach that runs through parts procurement, design, manufacturing,  marketing and use. It facilitates module upgrading, repairing, upcycling, reusing and recycling. The group behind this smartphone hopes to reduce global e-waste and kick start a circular economy for smartphones.


About Tapani Jokinen

Tapani Jokinen is Design Consultant, Strategic- & Ecodesign contractor in Fraunhofer IZM and owner of TJ-Design, creative consultancy that fuses strategic  innovation and design with sustainability and ethical business to drive positive impact in global level. Furthermore he is Chief Design Officer at Circular Devices, Finnish startup behind Sustainable Puzzlephone. Tapani is one of the Author of Ecodesign Learning Factory program where he teaching and facilitate training modules, innovation workshops and lecturing about circular design in seminars and conferences. Learning Factory methods and principles are  featured in Sustainability Guide – online web tool.

He has over 25 years extensive design experience in various capacities and global locations. Prior to Design Consultancy and Puzzlephone, he was Head of the Design Portfolio and Strategy at Microsoft/ Nokia. Tapani´s designs has sold over 400M all over the globe including iconic Nokia 3310. With great success comes greater responsibility that’s why he talks Design and thinks Business with sustainability in mind.