Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Design Matters

I'm always fascinated by the attachment we have to physical objects. Objects aren't always objects but sometimes direct extensions of ourselves. This is particularly true for tools of the trade, whether a favorite woodworking tool, a backpack that has traveled the world, or most especially a laptop computer. A laptop has one of the most complex relationship to the user of any tool. Certainly for someone like me who spends easily half of every working day pecking away at the keyboard, a laptop is as close as I get to that cybernetic future when our physical bodies are extended through a merger with technology! So, it's no wonder that people get attached. Directly related is the question of how a brands connects emotionally to people. The Lenovo (nee IBM) Thinkpads may have the most brand loyalty outside of Apple. A recent post to the Lenovo design blog is anecdotal evidence (LINK). The post talks about a customer who mailed back their 1995 ThinkPad because they were unable to put it out to pasture themselves. First, do Dell, Sony, HP HAVE a design blog? I don't think so. And have you ever heard such a story about other laptops? Doubt it. And certainly attachment to an object by a user is directly related to the attention its designer gave it.

The primary reason I can't switch to Apple from Windows is because of the ThinkPad. The keyboard and that nubby little red eraser device ("TrackPoint") that functions in lieu of a trackpad are where my biological body meets the laptop. To me that's as important as any software user interface. Will laptops ever become like cars, collected for their aesthetic rather than simply discarded after their utility has waned? Can a laptop ever make the same emotional connection to the user that, say, an early Jaguar can?
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