ThinkPad USB port replicator with digital video
If you saw my desk at work you would find a stack of action items, pencil drawn concept sketches, and a zillion notes to myself. In addition to this typical executive/designer stuff, I also have a a large ThinkVision monitor, an external ThinkPad keyboard, a set of great looking speakers, and a rarely used mouse. Since I use a ThinkPad X300, I don't have a traditional bottom-side docking connector available to me. It just would not have fit without making the product significantly thicker. A classic ThinkPad docking solution just won't work for me. I don't use these acessories all the time, but when I do, they are a pain to connect. There are way too many cables that need to be continuously connected and unconnected to my ThinkPad to make me happy. I know there are others out there who share my plight, I choose to call them the "docking connector challenged" crowd. We started working on the design solution many months ago and just recently announced a new ThinkPad USB port replicator with digital video. This device provides a quick and easy connection to the things I use with my ThinkPad. Simply connect via a single USB cable for access to your monitor, internet connection/LAN, headphones/speakers, USB printer, keyboard, mouse, and other USB devices. We made sure to include one front mounted USB port for things like a memory key. Importantly, it barely adds to my desktop clutter. Designing such a device may sound simple, but the simpler they are, the more difficult they are to design. Some might look at this kind of product as a box with some cables that connect to it, but can't that be said of all computers? It just isn't true. The question was how could we design a better box. We made numerous studies to validate connector placement, cable routing, display arrangements, and other such typical design realted criteria, but the biggest question for me was how can we make this look like something worthy of the ThinkPad brand. Here is a small sample of the many study models my team created to evaluate this problem. The models are made from black foamcore, cardboard, various papers, and other such traditional model making materials. This kind of quick and low cost model making technique is great for evaluating the overall design concept, scale, proportion, and simulating typical usage scenarios. Most of these models we "cabled up" using real cables held on with hot melt glue.
Collection of study models
Side view of final design
Rear view showing connectors
In the end I think we created something that not only looks good, but it solves a real problem. You can read about the detailed specifiications or order one here. The design has a vertical orientation to minimize the desktop footprint, and puts the connectors, indicators, and button in the right places. The design formally resembles a tiny ThinkPad slightly tilted backward on a thin plate-like stand. I think it's a simple solution to a complex task.