State of Series 60 visual design 12:37 on Wednesday

Never mind the sub-par usability, there’s something horribly wrong with the design of Series 60 mobile phones. Free lunch for the first to bring me a designer who actually thinks this looks cool:

Best Desk from SmartphoneWare demonstrating the state of mobile design on S60 platform.

I dare you.

The opportunity and need for good mobile design is overwhelming in it’s enormity.

**Update:** Jason of Signal vs. Noise longs for a Less Phone:
Someone has to simplify [mobile phone] UIs. And fast. They are a mess. All of them. The phones are getting better on the outside but worse on the inside.

14 Responses to “State of Series 60 visual design”


  1. Jouni Says:

    The picture is from 3rd party application (neither S60 platform application nor preinstalled to any S60 phone by manufacturer). Am I right? Active Idle screen is somewhat similar. Some people like, some don’t and it can be configured off.

    Could you elaborate more your point?

  2. Tommi Vilkamo Says:

    Hehheh… I guess you have a point.

    A small clarification for other readers: BestDesk is a small 3rd party application from a small company called SmartphoneWare, not Nokia S60 UI. It may not be perfect, but I think some users of older S60 devices (without active idle) could find it useful.

    And sorry about the crappy screenshot. My fault. Here you can find better ones: http://www.allaboutsymbian.com/reviews/item/Best_Desk.php

    > The opportunity and need for good mobile design is overwhelming in it’s enormity.

    Couldn’t agree more.

    Btw, thanks for the trackback. Subscribed to your blog :)

  3. Niko Says:

    Thanks for subscribing! There’s nothing like a little exaggeration to gain more audience.. ;)

    The app is indeed 3rd party, but both the default theme on my N90 and the default S60 theme have their design flaws.

    Good design is in the details. It’s not enough to pick nice colors, make the general layout auk, etc. To have design that is anything above average, you have to perfect every pixel as well as you can. I say “as well as you can”, as perfect is not often a possibility. Sadly, I think the S60 UI design is not done as well as I’d imagine you could. Or if it is, you need to hire new designers. ;)

  4. Jouni Says:

    Simple design is usually good desing. Adding more and more usually doesn’t lead to good results. There should be courage to say no to some features and requirements. However courage seems to disappear when the requirement is coming from big customer such as telecom operator.

    I certainly see challenges in S60 UI design.

  5. Genkimas Says:

    I at least got a nice theme (created even by Nokia as I’ve understood) for my N90 called ‘Lights’.

    You can download here, in the bottom of the page:


  6. Niko Says:

    Genki-san! :) The Lights background is nice, but otherwise the theme doesn’t do it for me. But luckily, going to the themes menu I found the Yahoo Mobile installer had saved two themes on the phone and those were pretty good. For instance, the Yahoo themes have clear colors and contrast in the calendar, not the light blue on lighter blue scheme of the N90 default theme.

    The problems I see are not cured with themes though (at least I haven’t seen anyone do that). Things like text touching the graphics around it or badly allocated space in the layout, for example.

  7. Steve Litchfield Says:

    Yup, I was the guy who reviewed Best Desk (link above). The point about it is that it gives those with older S60 devices (pre Nokia 6680) the chance for a proper ‘Today’ screen/summary. And note that it’s pretty flexible, you can remove/add plugins etc, so that it shows as much or as little as you need.

    Steve Litchield

  8. Niko Says:

    Hi Steve. Note I did not comment on the actual software, I have no experience using it. The screenshot just happened to be a good example of the horrible look preferred by most S60 developers.

  9. Alexandre Silva Says:

    No, this app, the way you put it in here (even worst due to big jpg compression) it is not a good example. However there are some. Have you ever saw “Handy Weather” from Epocware?

    Anyway, back to this subject, I think S60 has the best UI around by far. Did you compare it with other mobiles UI? You should. You’ll se what’s really bad…. And, I also think one thing: it’s usual among designers to be critic. But when someone does a critic it should show some alternatives. Wouldn’t the challenge be bigger if you could make a design of your own of what the perfect UI should be? I give some thoughts about it, and due to all the characteristics and functionalities of the phone its certainly not an easy task. Good luck though.

  10. Niko Says:

    No I’ve not seen Handy Weather, and based on your wording I don’t want it ever to cross my path! :)

    S60 might be the best UI of the “smart” phones around. Being the best of the worst doesn’t make you good though.

    I’ve written earlier about the issue of constructive criticism that your refer to, unfortunately in Finnish only. I might need to translate it. To put it short, if alternative solutions would always be required when showing what is wrong, we wouldn’t have much progress in the world.

    The challenge of making a perfect UI is even more enormous than the need for good UIs. Personally, I would start the re-design from the assumption that not all the characteristics and functionalities of the phone are a given… ;)

  11. Alexandre Silva Says:

    In fact I was referring to Handy Weather as a nice example…

  12. Niko Says:

    Oh, the joys of text communication. ;) Sorry I misunderstood you.

  13. Visa Says:

    I’m not sure what makes the S60 user interface so revolting, but maybe it’s in the fonts. You can’t call them too attractive or well-suited and as it can be seen in the screenshot, the italics cut is even worse. It wouldn’t be surprising if the font didn’t even really have an italics cut and the text in the picture was just regular cut displayed skewed.

    Niko has written before about how less options makes software better, and I couldn’t agree more. S60 has been made to be “flexible” which means that you can tweak it and download all kinds of different “themes” that turn the UI from somewhat horrible to absolutely horrible. Because developers can’t know what their software will look like on user’s phone, it is waste of time to fine-tune the UI. It’s easier to go with a compromise that “kinda works”.

    There are good reasons why Apple never incorporated themes to their OS. They were pretty close doing that with Mac OS 8.5, but removed the feature at the last minute. I’m sure the aim for consistency in the UI played a major role.

  14. Niko Says:

    Enabling user options is a way for developers to put off difficult decisions. (Yes, I’ve been reading Getting Real again.)