Nokia is the company many of us used to buy our phone from, before you-know-who started making the you-know-what. Since then Nokia has been in gradual, steady decline. To the point where the CEO felt the need to write a rather alarming memo to all his staff, using the metaphor of a “burning platform” to describe the situation Nokia finds itself. In this metaphor, the rather unappealing solution is to jump, and plunge into the ice cold North Sea below. Or commission London-based Dalton Maag to create a new typeface, call it Pure and organise a grand launch party featuring commissioned artworks from a hand picked bunch of leading designers — either way works, apparently. Introduced in late March, Nokia Pure is as important as Nokia’s own logo, as it will be the face (literally) of the mobile devices and stand front and center in all communications for the company.
For a brand like Nokia, looking to reinvent and revitalise, the typeface literally sets the tone. In many ways, it’s the touchstone for every other visual element in the branding palette. So it needs to be considered, rigorous and send out exactly the right message.
Logically enough, the starting point for our brand new typeface, Nokia Pure, was also on-screen legibility at small sizes — although now we’re talking about the pin-sharp colour screens of contemporary smartphones. At the same time, we also needed a recognisable corporate typeface, versatile enough to work well in all manner of different environments — from other screen-based formats, to a whole host of printed materials.
— Nokia’s Brand Book Blog
As you can see, Nokia Pure is a clean,
humanist Grotesque sans serif in the tradition of Helvetica, Univers or Frutiger. It’s been designed to work on small screens, but with recognition that today the resolution of these screens is much, much higher than it used to be. Thus the awkwardness of many early ‘pixel friendly’ typefaces has been avoided, and the typeface looks just like every other sans serif typeface you’ve ever come across. Another key consideration when creating a typeface for a client such as this is the mind bending challenge of rolling out the typeface to the myriad of different languages of every market the devices are sold in. No easy task.
Dalton Maag was asked by Nokia to design a font family primarily for use in digital media — mobile devices and the web — which would also be versatile enough to be the cornerstone for all of Nokia’s communications worldwide. The new font family had to reflect the traditions of Finnish design: simplicity, clarity, functionality, beauty of form — in short, Pure.
It needed to support languages using the Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, Arabic, and Hebrew alphabets, as well as the Devanagari and Thai scripts in a first phase introduction. More languages, including Chinese, would follow in the future. Various weights would be required, and specific Display versions for use at larger sizes. The Text fonts also needed to be fully hinted to give the best possible screen display on handheld devices.
— Daton Maag Case Study
The previous typeface Nokia used was designed by none other than Mr. Erik Spiekermann and, as much as I fear a dressing down in front of his 100,000-plus followers on Twitter, the old Nokia Sans was showing its age and, as I mentioned above, its reason for being — legibility on low resolution screens — no longer existed.
As Spiekermann himself said at the Brand New Conference, "brand is just a fucking typeface, it’s all you need". It’s understandable that Nokia, perceived as lagging behind competitors with faster, shinier, higher technology, sought to update their typography in line with the capabilities of screen technology. Will this revitalise the Nokia brand? No. But it does allow the Nokia device interfaces, signage, advertising and websites to be slightly refreshed. Whilst admittedly not an entirely new appearance, it’s a step in the right direction. And Nokia needs a few of those these days.