Are Gadgets Getting Plainer or Will Crazy Hardware Design Come Back? The Experts Speak

Illustration for article titled Are Gadgets Getting Plainer or Will Crazy Hardware Design Come Back? The Experts Speak

We all know minimalism is currently king in the gadget design world. Fancy shapes, switches and knobs have been eschewed in favor of clean and simple designs that take a backseat to interface. So we asked Fake Steve Jobs, Bruce Sterling, Daniel Will-Harris and Yves Behar whether or not they thought there would be a counter-minimalist backlash.


Fake Steve Jobs:

Yes, there will be a backlash. Wait until you see what the mobile phone guys have planned. Like Nokia. God love those Finns, but they never met a button or a switch that they could resist. They'll load their devices up with every possible feature and they'll create a software interface that nobody can understand, and for reasons I don't understand, weird people all over Europe (the artsy kind wearing too-small jackets and scarves wrapped around their necks) will embrace this clusterfuck of useless features and impossible operating design as a new breakthrough.

Not us, though. We're going to keep driving toward even greater minimalism. My goal is to have zero buttons. Zero visible screws. Just nothing at all on the outside. Perfectly smooth surfaces. Remember the Pet Rock craze in the '70s? That was a huge inspiration for me. People spent a fortune buying those little rocks, just because everyone else around them was doing it too. Huge lesson in that and it led directly to the founding of Apple in 1977. My pet rock - I call him Frank, after Frank Gehry — still sits on the desk at my office. Kind of a reminder of what our company is all about.

Bruce Sterling

Yeah, it's incredible how much power [the real Steve] Jobs has, isn't it? Even when his company's on the ropes, if he says, "It'll be translucent, blob-shaped and in lickable candy-colors," people from Toledo to Taiwan just go for it. Whereas, if an iPod or iPhone's got no buttons, all of a sudden buttons are like leprosy. You can "backlash" the Reality Distortion Field, but you're better off not trying.

Projects Watch Designer Daniel Will-Harris

Minimalist designs like the iPhone are quite beautiful, but also, in a way, invisible. They become frames to the content. But fashions in design are always evolving, and what's cool now may look dated, or at least "not new" in a few years.

I see a time when devices have a standard core of electronics designed to be placed into a wide design of cases tailored to your specific needs and desires. These cases would be offered by the device manufacturer, and also by third-parties who are given the open specs for creating a case. Think software skins, but as hardware. You could get a custom device case that specifically is molded to your grip, or is shaped like your favorite pet pygmy hamster. Maybe you want your device to be made of waterproof soft orange silicone, or milled out of hard cold malachite.

Now with rapid prototyping machines [and other new techniques], mass production doesn't have to mean endless sameness, it can mean endless variety. Sure, there will always be those who want what Madonna is carrying (and knockoffs will be easier and cheaper than ever). But customization and personalization will let you make devices more uniquely your own.


Yves Behar, head of fuseproject design firm:

Rather than going with a trend—minimalism vs. a more showy design—we're gonna get much more diversity. Companies will have the opportunity to be unique. The hope here is that there is opportunity that is taken by tech companies to create their own direction, create their own ethos recognizable, one from the other. Wired Magazine created something like this from the start, a unique look. Whether you like fluorescent colors or not, it's that kind of individualism or uniqueness, eclecticism. Hopefully this is something we'll see happening more. Living in a trend-driven environment with everything being matchy matchy isn't very interesting.




I like stereos with big buttons. Big metal buttons and other switches I might not turn. It must also have a needle that moves with the music. Don't bother me with nonsense like what the needle's actually pointing at. Cables. Lots of cables!