A Guest Post from Joe Schappler, Principal at Helix Design
A popular trend in consumer electronics is the “all display” look with a minimized or nonexistent bezel. Look at the assortment of smartphones, tablets, televisions and computer displays and try to tell them apart. How does an industrial designer differentiate the design from the competition when the “canvas” is taken away? It’s almost like asking an artist to create a painting without anything to draw on.
The emphasis of the design is shifting away from the physical attributes of the product to the user experience of the product. The focus of this exploration is on the actual encasement and not the GUI, although we must acknowledge how important the graphics and app development are for the overall product success and user satisfaction. Not to mention the trendy AI (artificial intelligence) and 5G. So for now, let’s turn the products power buttons off and define our options for industrial design to differentiate and satisfy the user desires.
We are seeing differentiation, from one competitor to another, come from a couple of areas; display form technology and features. In technology, we’re seeing the folding displays on smartphones, curved displays and bendables. Recent features include waterproof designs, thinner designs, more rugged display glass, and control enhancement with gesturing and voice commands.
In reality, this may lead to less “canvas” for the traditional industrial design. With smartphones, the primary surface available is on the back of the product. Even the front mounted home button has gone away on many new devices. On a smartphone or tablet, there’s a lens and a flash element, which I expect will be minimized behind glass sometime soon. There is more on a television, with the input and output interfaces and possibly a control panel on the side edge, and the stand when not wall mounted. All exposed fasteners have long been removed from most of these devices.
What’s left? It’s all in the details, such as fit and finishes. Ergonomics, material choices, quality button “feel”, lighting, and finishes stand out as ever more relevant design elements. When less becomes what’s left, these areas become more important. So explore controls placement, metal and plastic finishes, soft-feel finishes, colors, hydrographics, plating, use of LED lighting, etc. And of course, the ideal placement for the logo
But then, after all this passionate effort is put into the physical design, and we have the best feel with beautiful finishes and is well branded, let’s put it in a case… Maybe we should start designing the accessories.
That can’t be all, and it isn’t. There is ample opportunity to improve many of these devices, especially the smartphone and how we carry it with us. As the displays have gotten bigger, the rectangular form becomes more difficult to fit in our pockets, and many of us refuse to go back to clipping it on our belt! This problem has yet to be solved. Folding displays and bendables may play a role in this solution, as well as more ergonomic forms. And in televisions, the new roll-up displays may provide opportunity in the base design for new innovation.
We’re seeing this trend in other industries as well. In two recent life science and medical projects we worked on, the “all display” surface became the focal point of the instruments. It has a modern and high technology appearance is easy to clean compared to a display behind a bezel, where dirt can easily be trapped. The industrial design emphasis is to highlight the glass panel with supporting design attributes on surrounding surfaces. In some cases, such as rack-mounted stackable products, we have seen a movement away from controls and displays on each individual product and replaced with a single tablet that controls each instrument in the stack. In this case, the enclosure isn’t going away but is increasing in visual terms. When there are fewer features to add visual interest, we are seeing a trend to use LED lighting, and innovative finishes, to enhance the industrial design.
To learn more about our various projects at Helix Design, visit www.helixdesign.com.