The Next Industrial Design Evolution
You start with the light blue frame and move towards the dark blue frame which represents a completed product.
I have been pondering over the new Macbook Pro’s “Unibody”, with my thoughts often sliding from sheer audacity of execution, to disbelieve, to the wonderment of who got threaten at gun point, and then finally going back full circle.
But as I thought more about it, I suddenly realized that this was probably one of the best examples of a new school of thought of Industrial Design that I observed about 5 or more years ago. First finding its roots in the furniture/interiors industry (those guys can really experiment!), it has now finally come to main stream consumer electronics with the new Macbook. In short Industrial Design has evolved into a holistic expression of “everything” that is required to create the product. Expanding on this, the Industrial Design of these products were inspired by the product’s manufacturing processes or materials and specifically designed to express it as much as possible.
But wait, there’s more!
Hey did somebody at Apple not say: “There’s a story behind each part.” ?
In the past, what was practiced and taught to us at school was that Industrial Design was a process that was essentially a liner step by step process. As my top graphic explains, first we start with the components or archetype. Next we create and stretch “a skin (or aesthetic) over the components”. After that we figured out what sort of materials and manufacturing processes to use. Finally after all that, we did color studies. Essentially what we were doing here was building a product by layering the different steps over it in a funnel like manner.
The problem we this sort of approach we found out, was that people started to treat our product “layers” as they would budgets. It there was a lack of budget they would “logically” start to “cut” back these layers. Some examples of common discussions designers have include “Oh no money? Ok lets toss that metal housing and turn it into plastic…” or “Can’t afford that brush metal trim, lets turn it black instead?”. Does this sound familiar?
Anyway, as the world evolved and consumers got smarter, Industrial Design soon followed and evolved towards a “user-centered” approach. Industrial Design was now about creating an object that was a reflection of one’s needs and wants. Slight better then we were just considered as “stylists” as described in my previous paragraph above.
Industrial design, with the new Macbook, has now evolved again. This time into a communication tool that tells a story. As the right side of my graphic describes, Industrial Design now uses everything in its repertoire, the form, materials and manufacturing, and even color, to tell a story. Even a sustainable eco friendly one!
Now if you strategize the design of a product in such a manner, it is extremely hard to just “cut things” out based on someone’s whims and fancies (or even budgets). The trick here is ensuring a great story and how well your design reflects that.