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’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.
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.