Design

Power personified

Power personified

Designing a workstation can be a seemingly daunting task; it’s full of technical constraints and functional complexities that most designers find less than glamorous. Due to the tooling investment required, the design platform also has to be designed to last for as long as 5 years. It’s a far cry from designing the fall fashion collection for the next “runway” in Milan. It’s about expressing and enhancing functionality through inspired design for a very specific and demanding audience. To develop such a targeted design takes strong understanding of their wants and needs, a robust technical knowledge of how high performance computers work and a creative spirit that can turn requirements into meaningful design. The people who buy workstations are the same kind of people who appreciate the functional ethos and aesthetic of a full bore military issue Humvee! They are not fooled by the superficial. I personally have always found this type of design not only very challenging, but also rewarding. I enjoy solving technical problems and have always liked to analyze and create the design of utilitarian objects. During my career I’ve designed underground trenching equipment, industrial lawn mowers, camping gear and computers that have all celebrated functionality. As with any design project, you have to start somewhere. Knowing the customer is certainly crucial, but you ultimately have to synthesize a lot of information into design...

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The Milanese Maestro

The Milanese Maestro

I first met Massimo Vignelli at the International Design Conference at Aspen in 1981.  I was there on a design scholarship from the University of Kansas. The theme of the conference that year was “The Italian Idea”.  It sought to understand and celebrate the essence of Italian design.  Every morning the scholarship students met for a breakfast discussion with iconic designers such as Saul Bass, Mario Bellini, Ivan Chermayaff, Henry Wolfe, Leo Lionni, Vico Magistretti, Giorgetto Giugiaro, Milton Glaser, Sergio Pininfarina, and of course Massimo Vignelli. I was especially excited to meet him as I had heard a lot about his work at UNIMARK International. Professor Richard Branham, one of my University of Kansas design teachers, had worked at the Chicago office in the late 1960’s and was full of fascinating real world stories to share. In the cool morning Aspen air, with some of the world's best design talent, we gathered. We discussed and debated design philosophy, their work, tools and techniques, portfolios, and landing that all important first design job.  One of the scholarship attendees awkwardly brought up what to wear to the design job interview. I think he was intimidated by the immaculate, and somewhat costly, “design wardrobe” that Massimo was sporting. Dressed in all black clothing he designed, wearing minimalist glasses and...

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ThinkPad 8 comfortably at home in the Tablet 2 Bluetooth Keyboard

ThinkPad 8 comfortably at home in the Tablet 2 Bluetooth Keyboard

Every once in a while something happens that we didn’t plan for and it turns out to be a positive. I like to refer to this as a “happy accident”. Bob Ross, host of the popular public television series "The Joy of Painting," was also a fan of this phenomenon. He was the master of turning a seemingly misguided slip of the brush into positives like a picturesque knot-hole on a gnarly old oak tree.  The end result was usually more interesting than what he had intended. For a listing of the top 25 happy accidents click here. “There are no mistakes, just happy accidents.”  Bob Ross Our newly announced ThinkPad 8 tablet is a great product with accessories like the Quickshot smart cover and a forthcoming protective case. We did not, however, design an accessory keyboard specifically for the product. Keyboards have a pretty hefty development price tag and the predicted sales volumes were not so high. A Tablet 8 dedicated keyboard accessory just didn’t make the cut. Portrait or landscape, the choice is yours Interestingly enough, my design team discovered something along the lines of a happy accident for the new ThinkPad 8 tablet. It fits perfectly in the trough of the ThinkPad Tablet 2 Bluetooth Keyboard....

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Selfie taken with the Quickshot feature in the Lenovo men's room mirror  : )

Selfie taken with the Quickshot feature in the Lenovo men's room mirror : )

Technical specifications are important when we develop new products. They must have the right combination of battery life, ports, memory configurations, weight, screen size/resolution, and of course processor performance. This has been true for years within the computer industry. At Lenovo there will always be lots of technical wizards working on this stuff. In a rapidly changing tech world, people also demand an emotionally satisfying user experience. When my team was creating the design of the ThinkPad 8, we expended significant energy shaping such an experience.  During the design concept phase we focused a lot of our attention on trying to develop a feature that would elicit a positive emotional response. We brainstormed for days working in small tiger teams looking for the right stuff. We talked about supporting multi-mode functionality with innovative stand, ensuring the tablet was narrow enough to be held comfortably with one hand, and the importance of overall fit and finish. After much debate and study, we ultimately decided we needed to do those things well, but we also needed something new. It was time to invent. We thought there might be a way to create something that would simplify the photo- taking experience. Due to its portability, the ThinkPad 8 actually makes a great camera. I personally hate trying to take photos with a larger tablet, they’re just too unwieldy to use quickly or discreetly. Seeing people take photos on large tablets...

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Thomas Jefferson was obsessed with inventing unique stands for reading

Thomas Jefferson was obsessed with inventing unique stands for reading

In the world of hardware design, tablets have traditionally been seen as a race for thin. You can’t begin to imagine how many meetings I’ve attended over the last year debating tablet thickness. It must be one of the hottest topics in the entire industry, not just Lenovo. Every effort goes into squeezing the air out of tablets in order to gain a scant fraction of a millimeter advantage in thickness. Beyond actual thickness, we also seek to taper the design toward the edges to further enhance the impression of thin. Sadly, those pesky connectors and buttons seem to always get in the way of making the sleekest form . Do we really need them? I tend to prefer wireless solutions that provide freedom and simplify my world. The Yoga tablet integrates high and low stand functionality thanks to a unique profile With all the recent publicity surrounding the design of the Lenovo Yoga Tablet , and the integration of a flip out leg for viewing and typing modes, it makes me wonder if this isn’t the wave of the future.  At Lenovo we call these positions high and low angle modes. High is typically used for viewing content such as a movie and low primarily for typing. For the Yoga tablet, these modes were uniquely enabled by the use of a row of cylindrical batteries forming an asymmetrical profile. It could be done without using that form, but it would be...

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