Patterns of Emotional Connection

HP Pavilion dv200, wave pattern for HP's Imprint Finish designed by Lunar

I bumped into my friend Lori recently and noticed that she had a new PC—a notebook computer from HP sporting graphic patterns that my firm, Lunar, had designed with them. When I asked her about what her checklist contained when she set out to buy a PC, we ended up talking about her list of technical requirements.

I then shared with her some of the backstage stories—how much effort it took to make those beautiful graphics find their way onto the surfaces of the notebook computer. She was amazed. "Why go to all that trouble just for a PC, something that I buy solely for its function?"

Good question. Why did HP spend all those resources to create an unnecessary flourish? After all, HP is a technology company with world-class expertise in delivering the latest wizardry to hungry consumers.

Or is it?

hp-artist series
HP Pavilion dv6t Artist Edition 2 Notebook PC designed by Hisako Sakihama

HP's chief designer Sam Lucente casts the corporate mission in a different light. "We're in the business of humanizing technology." Competing solely on the battleground of technology and cost, the familiar argument goes, is a tough way to engage customers. There has to be more, something that is meaningful to people and appealing to their values, their emotions.

Enter the pattern. The business beauty to patterns is that they create visual uniqueness, and they do it efficiently. Patterns do their work on the surface without having to change the canvas. And so the hardware can remain the same while the surfaces can be anything from vibrant and dynamic to subtle and sophisticated—without having to invest an additional dime in manufacturing.

vivienne tam laptop
HP Mini 1000 Vivienne Tam edition series

They are finding their way onto all sorts of things of late, a refreshing trend that points to a future way that we will encounter technology products differently, more like fashion than function. And while fashion can be a tricky aspiration in our current economic and ecological times—because it sounds temporary and decadent—it's also an expressive practice that is rooted in connecting regular people with an artist, creator or craftsperson.

The hand of the craftsperson showing up in technology products is perfect for times like these when we want to connect with others for that human touch. And it's working. When Lori was done talking about all the things she was looking for in a PC, I asked, so why'd you choose the HP? She smiled, touched her computer reflectively, and replied, "because it looks so cool."

Are you partial to any patterns on your electronics? And do they affect your purchasing decisions?

Read more of John Edson's Powers of Design blog

As a seasoned product developer with a background in both analytical and creative thinking, John Edson's primary role is to build new programs for clients with the right innovation processes led by the right creative team to make a real difference for clients. His experience includes managing the birth of successful products for Philips, Motorola, InFocus, and several startups. Products developed under John's management have been honored with accolades from the ID Magazine Design Annual, the Chicago Athenaeum Good Design Award, iF Hannover, PC Magazine's Editor's Choice Award, and IDSA's Industrial Design Excellence Award.

Developing the contribution of design creativity and innovation process in the service of business, society and the environment, John explores the impact of design creativity in a weekly podcast, Icon-o-Cast, that he hosts with guest speakers ranging from Business Week's Bruce Nussbaum to author and cognitive scientist Don Norman. John is also a regular speaker, having lectured at Wharton School, given a keynote at Intertech's Flexible Display Technologies conference, and participated in a talk for the Business Marketing Association of Northern California. A lecturer at Stanford, John teaches courses in product design and creativity.

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  • guni Alan

    excellent notebook's design. I'd love to have it. I was impressed with HP, with quality very good notebooks, HP also provides a very cool design.

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  • sid fom

    Styling can be lovely (if its yours) and fashion design doesn't cost much if it's just about styling. But will it make a significant difference in the saleability of a product if it's wrong.f styling additionally is irrelevant to a product's performance, it's a weak reed on which to base a business strategy: fashion is fickle and the same goes for styling.
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  • laptop skins

    I prefer to design my own skins. Factory laptop skins, while they're nice, are not unique. In the case of one of the above examples it actually ends up costing more because of a designer name.

    Laptop skins can be your own design, and that might be a favorite sports team, actor/actress, band, a cause you support, or a photo of your pet.

    Also, with laptop skins, you can easily remove them and change to something else and not have a residue to clean up. The factory version is more permanent. One week its your favorite band, the next its a scan of an SI swimsuit model or something else.

    I think the personalized route is the way to go for laptop skins.


  • Bob Jacobson

    Styling is what we once called improving the surface appearance of an object. I think it's a good term to resurrect given the confusion over what's design.

    When haute couture devolved into mass merchandise, the emotional level of buyers' connection with products flattened out -- more people buy on emotional, but fewer of them do it with passion. Most items today aren't made by craftsmen, but only appear to be (unless we're talking ultra-expensive and fairly rare). That tends to ratchet down the excitement. Fashion's more a matter of comparing this with that for surface appeal, not inherent meaning.

    If styling additionally is irrelevant to a product's performance, it's a weak reed on which to base a business strategy: fashion is fickle and the same goes for styling. Here today, gone tomorrow.

    Depression culture is our clearest clue to what lies ahead. During hard times, people go practical and communal (at least among peers). This is expressed in color fields as low-contrast earth tones and in product design, as reduced differentiation. Celebrities get to dude it up and be boldly bright. But in hard times, the majority of people seek community, not celebrity. For a common cause they'll stand up, but they don't want to stand out. Styling reverts to a predictable mean.

    I could be wrong. The power of styling may be stupendous. But I don't think so.

    Styling can be lovely (if its yours) and fashion design doesn't cost much if it's just about styling. But will it make a significant difference in the salability of a product if it's wrong. Moreover, one reason why styling is so popular is that it covers up for design flaws that are more profound. This is just a manufacturer fooling himself.

  • Bob Designer

    So John Edson is President of a big corporate design company, and all he can do as a "guest blogger" is shill his own work for his biggest client?

    I mean "patterns"? Really? That's the big idea? Some random & meaningless fashion claptrap wrapped over a forgettable & unremarkable PC?

    Even if these particular products weren't designed by Lunar, that Edson is simply pimping HP in his "blog entry" is embarrassing. Embarrassing for him, for Lunar, and especially or HP.

    This guy has nothing to say. I mean, the made up story about "his friend Lori"? Are we supposed to be that stupid? If he had any respect for readers, or his client...he'd just say "look, fashion designer fabric wrapped around a's better than nothing!" and leave it at that, because that's all it is. This drivel is absolutely insulting.

    This guy is exactly what's WRONG with corporate design today: no vision, no passion, and a need for made up "user"..oh, i mean "friend"...stories to justify mediocre work. Dull dull dull.

    As for HP, well, all i can say is, if this is their best hope, if this is what they want high-lighted, in this way in this forum....well, it's pretty sad.