10 Elegant Product Designs, Not By Apple - InformationWeek

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10/17/2014
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10 Elegant Product Designs, Not By Apple

Apple has made elegant design its calling card, but other companies can create gorgeous things, too.
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Apple says exceptional design is the essence of its products, and not without reason. Over the years, its products have stood out for being attractive, well crafted, and easy to use.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Apple's competitors -- the makers of Windows computers -- only underscored Apple's distinctiveness by continuing to produce utilitarian beige boxes. When Apple co-founder Steve Jobs returned to lead Apple in the late 1990s and launched the candy-colored iMac line and the Think Different ad campaign, the company was struggling. Microsoft and its Windows partners saw no reason to worry, except that Apple might fail and complicate Microsoft's antitrust situation.

But Jobs's faith in the distinctiveness of Apple products and his vision for the company led Apple to create technology products that were both beautiful and functional. His focus on premium design, given form by Apple senior VP of design Jony Ive, led to luxurious margins and healthy earnings until his own health gave out three years ago.

Under CEO Tim Cook, Apple has continued to focus on design as if it owned the concept. "A truly great product is ultimately defined by the integration of its hardware and software," declares Ive in the video introducing the company's iPhone 6. Ive also narrated the video introducing the Apple Watch, a product due early next year that's hugely dependent on design.

A few years ago, it might have been Apple senior VP of marketing Phil Schiller telling this story. But Apple is doubling down on design -- on aesthetics, form, and function -- as the thing that differentiates its products from the competition. Apple has become both a technology company and a luxury goods company.

The problem Apple faces is that other companies have caught on. Sony understood the value of design early on, but struggled with other issues, like lackluster leadership and its failure to understand the value of controlling both software and hardware. Now Amazon, Google, and Microsoft -- through its own struggles and the acquisition of Nokia's mobile business -- appear to have learned from what Apple has done right and are showing themselves to be capable of elegant product design. And the platform companies are not alone. Mobile hardware companies like Samsung and Xiaomi have recognized the need to focus on design to distinguish their products, because Android has commoditized the software layer.

The shift toward mobile devices and the computerization of everyday objects only amplifies the importance of design. Back when computers were machines for the technically savvy, users were expected to spend hours manually updating software and drivers; computers were expected to be painful to operate. Today, ease of use and the user experience are paramount; no one will tolerate a mobile phone that is confusing or an Internet-connected thermostat that requires a detailed manual.

Fine design, particularly in the aesthetic sense, has been essential for luxury brands since long before Apple was founded. While Apple may have been instrumental in demonstrating the value of great design in the computer industry, it no longer has a monopoly on beautiful, well engineered technology products.

What follow are a few things, mostly technology products, that demonstrate great design.

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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Gigi3
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Gigi3,
User Rank: Ninja
10/20/2014 | 6:20:02 AM
Product Design
"Apple has made elegant design its calling card, but other companies can create gorgeous things, too."

Thomas, apple has made an elegant design only for their products, IPad and IPhone. But that doesn't mean that they are superior in designing the products. Other companies like Samsung, Ford, GE etc also have designed fabulous products with elegant designs.
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
10/19/2014 | 1:50:22 PM
Re: Telsa's latest Design, Awesome !
All Tesla models are engineering marvels. They are one of a kind. Obviously they were the underdogs of automotive industry, but they seem to be picking up pace now. There are only two car manufacturer that gets my interest spiked, one is Tesla and the other one is Koenigsegg.
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
10/19/2014 | 1:47:57 PM
Re: Bond's Tool of Choice: The Nitecore Titanium Pen
It would help in a number of situations (one just like the author pointed out) and if rightly priced and properly advertised, this pen could be the next thing in our pockets. I am a big fan of watches, I wonder why there wasn't any watch in this list. Also the waffle maker would be a big hit in NY City.
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
10/18/2014 | 6:41:38 PM
Bond's Tool of Choice: The Nitecore Titanium Pen

This Nitecore Titanium pen is Interesting.   Do you really need to have a pen that doubles as an Ice Pick ?   Well it looks nice, I wonder how it holds up after you beat a window in with it ?

Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
10/18/2014 | 6:35:31 PM
Surface Design : MS Listens and Learns ?

I have to agree here, I am not a big windows person.   I can take it or leave it, but the Surface design is pretty nice and if I had to buy one I would not be unhappy about that.

Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
10/18/2014 | 6:31:27 PM
Samsung Makes What ?

So funny, being a single work-a-holic I don't often think bout major appliances - but couples I know do.   One day I heard through them that Samsung makes these types of products - Needless to say I was surprised.

 

Maybe when the time comes I will consider one too.

Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
10/18/2014 | 6:26:12 PM
Telsa's latest Design, Awesome !

Had not seen this new Telsa until it was shared here.  I was able to experience one from an old IT guy who could apparently afford one.   As far as design goes his model seemed too simple.  While their is beauty in simplicity - at that price I didn't see much.

 

This latest model is simply gorgeous !    Major uptick from previous models something to aspire to for sure.

Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
10/18/2014 | 6:20:04 PM
Design Really is Important After All

Really fascinating how Jobs was able to understand that Design was major factor in differentiating their products from the rest.  It took awhile the industry to catch on but not until Apple had corned the market on this aspect.   

 

Others are trying to catch up now and that is a good thing for everyone.

H@mmy
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[email protected],
User Rank: Ninja
10/18/2014 | 7:02:45 AM
Re: Don't call it a waffle iron
Design can surely impact the sales of the product but I believe traditional design principles are now being obselete. The products described above are amazing.
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
10/17/2014 | 7:01:54 PM
Re: Don't call it a waffle iron
I hope that smart waffle iron is smart enough to help you clean.  Cleaning waffle makers is no picnic.  Many companies have learned that elegant product design is the best way to make a product easy to use. 
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