Visual aesthetics is an essential part of our experience of mobile devices, but the ways in which it is accounted for in design have largely been overlooked. We investigate whether an aesthetization of mobile design is taking place and, if so, how it is being pursued through institutional practices in organizations. We conduct a visual analysis of all Nokia phone releases between 1992 and 2013 complemented by an interview series with key actors. The study reveals a continuous increase in aesthetic variation between 1998 and 2008, which is visible in the variation of colors, forms, and materials. The period between 2003 and 2008, which we term the “Grand” period, marks the peak of aesthetization of Nokia’s devices. It exhibits great variation, and is visibly similar to aesthetics in the fashion industry. With the introduction of the slate form, we see a decrease in visual variation between 2009 and 2013. The interviews reveal how the visual design was driven by organizational strategies, such as customer segmentation in general, and an orientation toward the fashion industry, for example, in the creation of a fashion segment. The study reveals how aesthetic variation is weaved into a complex innovation system with sometimes conflicting demands deriving from, for instance, technology and user interaction.
Zhang, Y. and Juhlin, O.
Published in: 
Mobile Media & Communication, doi: 10.1177/2050157916654510
Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - 19:15