The Nokia 1100 mobile phone
Nokia 1100 mobile phone – an antidote to feature overload?

Design involves making judgements. Good design is often as much about what is left out as what is added in. In this article, Matt Willox, one of our industrial designers, talks about why he loves the pared down simplicity of the Nokia 1100, and contrasts this with today’s feature laden smartphones

My mobile phone is a Nokia 1100. Most people find it strange that I own such a basic phone. Being a product designer, they expect me to have the latest, most advanced and snazzy phone on the market. In fact, it’s quite the contrary, I dislike nearly all modern mobile phones. The only phone that I seem to be able to get on with is the Nokia 1100, the same one I have been buying for the past 10 years. So, why do I think it is the probably the best phone in the world? 

Firstly, a quick roundup of its main features: there’s no camera, no mp3 player, no web browser, no email, no GPS, no Bluetooth, no Infrared, no memory card slot, no polyphonic ringtones and no option to “sync with your PC”. There is not even a colour screen; it’s just one of those monochrome ones. 

Instead, what you get is a cheap and durable mobile phone that works really well as a mobile phone. You can send text messages, make calls, set an alarm to wake you up in the morning and that is n a landscape of feature laden mobile devices, the 1100 is refreshingly simple. 

I am not the only one that thinks so, there is a Nokia 1100 club. It has been a major success story for Nokia, selling 200 million units over the 4 years since its launch in 2003 (http://conversations.nokia.com/almanac/nokia-1100/#). This made it the world’s best selling consumer electronics product, beating the Playstation 2, Motorola RAZR and even the iPod at the time. 

It was originally intended for developing countries, and therefore its keypad and front face were designed to be as dustproof as possible. Its sides are non-slip, grippy in humid weather or wet hands. It is durable in its construction - I have dropped mine countless times with no ill effects. One phone even continued to work for a good few months after an accidental dunk in the washing up bowl, but it eventually succumbed to rust. 

The 1100 is also efficient. It uses the same battery as other more advanced models but as it is so basic consumes only a fraction of the power. In practice, this means it lasts over a week between charges - much to the envy of my iPhone touting friends (they get nowhere near the advertised 14 hours battery time). 

It is also cheap as well as cheerful - a new Nokia 1100 normally sells for about £40, but second hand refurbished versions can be found on Amazon and Ebay for around £12. Compare this with the cost of modern smartphones and it quickly starts to become an attractive option. Another important feature is Nokia’s legendary easy to use interface. Combined with large buttons and a clear monochrome screen it makes using the phone very simple and quick. 

The only feature that seemed superfluous to me was the torch. I never thought I would use it, but it has since proved invaluable surprisingly often – searching for change that has rolled under furniture, finding dropped keys in the cinema or locating the keyhole in the door after a night out. The 1100 has come to the rescue time and time again. 

I read a quote recently, posted on popular industrial design blog Core77, along the lines of “products that do less focus attention on the things they do well”. I think the Nokia 1100 is a good example of this.  It is a simple and easy to use mobile phone that doesn’t try to pretend it’s something it’s not. It’s an example of “what I would call, good, honest design”. 

Or as Nokia puts it, “the basics done brilliantly” (http://conversations.nokia.com/almanac/nokia-1100/#)