You would think after marrying two designers that some of their design sensibility would rub off on me. No such luck, and it doesn't help that I am as color blind as you can get. But lately it seems as if good design is rubbing off on quite a few computing manufacturers. They have taken design to heart and actually developing ö and selling ö products that look good and use their design to work well too. Good design is here to stay in the PC industry, and we should all be thankful.
There are several events and trends that have happened to make this possible. First and foremost is the launch of the Mac Mini. What used to be considered a breakthrough design ö a black case ö is not enough. The white-and-silver box is compact, quiet, and elegant. It has motivated several vendors to launch an entire product line with similar color schemes. The Sonos wireless speakers take its cues from the Mini, and there are routers from Netgear that offer up the same white/silver color schemes.
If you want to go back further for design innovation, of course there is the iPod, now a standard accessory for every teenager and hip adults too. Certainly those Apple ads are cute and infectious with everyone bouncing around with their white headphones. But you would have to admit that both Apple products just look good. Even the boxes that they come in are designed well. (I couldn't bear to throw out my G5's packing materials, just because the box is so well constructed.)
Most notable with the iPod enhancements is Belkin. They
offer various attachments for your iPod in your car, for portable speakers and
power, and other add-ons. And these products all look as good as the iPod.
Belkin knows what they are doing ö the company opened a special industrial
design studio in
Belkin isn't the only one with a far-out industrial design
studio. Even staid Intel with all of its miles of cubical dwellers has one, and
I was able to meet with their design teams when I visited their
This brings up another trend. As these design shops proliferate, computer vendors are hiring more industrial designers and giving them more influence over the ultimate product feature set. This isn't just because they want good-looking products. Rather, good design has solid bottom-line implications. It gives the vendor a leg up because they need to stand out on the shelves and because the coolness factor translates into good word of mouth and improved sales.
Getting back to the Mac Mini, clearly this machine has had its influence on the small form factor PC vendors. I saw this week a new machine from AOpen that takes its cues from Apple, and they will be selling next month their XC Cube Mini model that is small, powerful, and quiet just like the Mini, and in various colors too. AOpen wants these PCs to be used in living rooms, kitchens, and other places where having a nice-looking machine is an important part of the dŽcor.
Speaking of colors, another trend has to do with the rise of case-modding. The custom construction of computer cases has reached beyond the underground overclockers and is now firmly in the mainstream. Companies like Alienware and Falcon Technology have made good businesses selling innovative cases that are more than just good designs and have solid high-performance components inside. Ê
In the old days of automotive design, car companies
established design studios here in southern
But in the computing world, we have no such geographic nexus
of case modders. They can be found in every country. This
makes it harder for industrial design shops to incorporate local sensibilities,
to be sure. And these designers need to expand their sights beyond the
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