As most who know me know all too well, I’m not an Apple fangirl. So of course, any headline that whiffs of critical commentary always attracts my notice.
This article in Co.Design makes a couple of interesting observations:
To be fair, Apple didn’t invent the tension between designing something that merely seemed better and actually designing a better product. These opposing impulses are baked into modern product design. In the 1930s, writers such as Christine Frederick, the high priestess of planned obsolesce, were advocating the idea that the only way for America to emerge from the Great Depression was for people to buy more goods. Some manufacturers of that time took that to mean doing anything–whether it be new colors or new styling–that made the products a consumer already had seem old. But against this view stood industrial designers such as Henry Dreyfuss who thought that for someone to buy something new, that thing had to better for them. This was the first inkling of user-centered design in the modern era.
The problem is that its marketing has spent so long building up such a reductive definition of better technology: thinner, lighter, new features. Meanwhile, if you watch an Apple keynote today, and you’ll notice an overwhelming amount of time devoted to talk of processor speeds and technical specifications. The feature touting has begun to sound like a weird echo of the bad-old days of PC-dominated technology, when “new” computers came down to how fast their chips ran. Nowhere is Apple talking about ideas.
My love of Apple critique notwithstanding, they are not alone in the increasing delicacy of their laptops–my less-than-6-mos-old Thinkpad “Carbon X1” is currently in the shop due to a dislodged letter “B” that necessitates the entire lid of the bottom half of the laptop to be replaced, not just the key or even the entire keyboard.
This also makes me realize I’m woefully uninformed about the history of industrial design, as I didn’t recognize Henry Dreyfuss, although I did use his iconic phone as a high school student, inheriting the throwback from my stepdad, who restored it to a glossy black before gifting it to me.