In 1982, the legendary designer Hartmut Esslinger began working with Apple. Esslinger had defined the design for Sony in the late ’70s. Steve Jobs wanted his computers to have a similar mass appeal. And what was born from the collaboration turned techie computers into accessible appliances: The Snow White design language, which wrapped the original Macintosh in a fog-colored plastic case, with sleek stripes that doubled as ventilation. The tagline? “Introducing Macintosh, for the rest of us.”
However, nearly 40 years later, the biggest challenge of building electronics isn’t their fit and finish, but their sustainability. It’s why Apple has since shifted to recyclable milled aluminum cases for its computers. And why designers Hank Beyer and Alex Sizemore channeled their inner Apple in presenting a series of radically redesigned Macs, encased in more easily sourced local materials such as coal, ice, and honey. The name of the project plays off of Apple’s old slogan: For the Rest of Us.
“We don’t want people to view our project and feel resentment toward globalization, to feel that we want to replace industry or to consider new materials only for commercial merit,” the team writes via email. “We want people to question the implications of globalization, and consider how unconventional materials can change product relationships.”
Photographed with similar backdrops and framing as original Macintosh ads, their computers—which are technically nonfunctional sculptures—flip Apple’s product aesthetics on their head to challenge any lingering conventions in industrial design.
One computer is basically a screen encased in a mound of dirt, with various foliage growing out of the top. Another looks like an original Macintosh, albeit encased in a carefully carved block of coal. Some designs almost venture toward practical application—the limestone computer and mouse are simply stunning, almost as if the Snow White design language were rendered in natural material. But the ice-encased computer would clearly melt and short-circuit itself. And the honey computer, encased in honeycomb and dripping honey everywhere, borders on surrealism.
The entire project, most of which was completed when Beyer and Sizemore were design students a few years ago, is meant to feel retro. “This historic reference shows up throughout our project in our photography, our models and some of our graphic choices. We did this to differentiate the models from the present, allowing you to look back and imagine an alternate reality,” the team writes. However, this alternative history is unconventionally future-forward.
Today, companies might not be building computers out of dirt, but they are actively prioritizing more sustainable and circular materials. For instance, at the Google Design Lab, the company has stocked a rich materials library full of unconventional options for their phones and Nest products. Here, designers can literally touch swatches of mushroom leather and plastic made from milk proteins. Meanwhile, Nike and Adidas both have programs to grind up old shoes to produce new ones, much like Apple disassembles old iPhones to mine them for their rare-earth materials. These trends will only grow.
So while, no, you’ll never log onto Zoom with your honeyed keyboard and monitor, its foundational metaphor of a renewable, more naturally sourced material still lives deep inside the products of tomorrow. And you won’t ever have to get stung just to send an email, either.