Much of the design of consumer electronics is driven by one thorny problem: how to dissipate the heat generated when the power is on. In the past, most solutions have involved some sort of fan or heat pump, which necessitates a box to cover those unattractive innards. Shrinking a device won't cool things off either; the smaller the device, the more heat is generated, since activity is concentrated on a smaller board.
So the challenge was clear for SlingMedia, maker of the Slingbox, a gadget that enables users to play video content from their DVRs, cable boxes, and satellites remotely. Working with Gadi Amit, chief of San Francisco's NewDealDesign, it set out to make the smallest Slingbox ever. "We wanted it to be low cost, not waste materials, and not add layers," Amit says. "We wanted to make the aluminum sing."
Instead of thinking of ways to disperse the heat, designers at NewDealDesign tried a novel tack: building a heat sink into the product's very form. And by wrapping the core processor in a recyclable cast-aluminum lattice, they simultaneously eliminated the need for a bulky box and created a gorgeous exterior. "Like a samurai with one stroke, you do it and it's done," says Amit.
The judges deemed the Slingbox 700U, which is not much larger than a checkbook, one of the sparest and loveliest examples of electronics design they had ever seen. And they noted that a new bar has been set. As juror Brett Lovelady, CEO of design firm Astro, puts it: "Sling has started a movement that other boxologists will have to try to outdo."
A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.