Fishing Lure Syndrome

Alluring design, or best kept in the tackle box ?

Lately there seems to be two schools of thought concerning the design of notebook computers. One is the modernist approach of simplification, proportion, quality materials, authenticity of form, and an aesthetic that supports rather than dominates your world. Dieter Rams, of Braun fame, has talked often about this minimalist approach.  In his 1985 "ten commandments" of design, this ideal of recessive aesthetics is clearly referenced.

"Good design is as little design as possible" Dieter Rams

Ten Commandments of Design:

  • Good design is innovative
  • Good design makes a product useful
  • Good design is aesthetic
  • Good design makes a product understandable
  • Good design is unobtrusive
  • Good design is honest
  • Good design is long-lasting
  • Good design is thorough down to the last detail
  • Good design is environmentally friendly
  • Good design is as little design as possible
  • Rams' design work has dominated the minds of generations of designers who admired and sought to emulate the purity of expression that he achieved during his productive and successful career at Braun. I certainly was, and continue to be,  one of them. As a entry level designer fresh out of college, I often wondered how he was able to convince people to make products so devoid of ornamentation and superfluous doo dads. Where was the traditional gold trim, blinking lights, cursive "stereophonic" lettering and fake wood grain? To some, his models must have looked like the engineering  prototype that was crying out for some design help. Rams, however, changed the face of design thinking and created some of the most successful products in history. Rams has often been called the designer's designer. It fits.Interestingly, his influence is far from over. His legacy lives on in a design ethos that has been copied by many throughout the years. Apple has often been accused of taking Rams emulation to historic levels.

Contrast this historic Braun consumer electronics design with most of the era
Genuine simulated wood grain

The other school of thought is the antithesis of these ideas. It celebrates the "more is more" design mantra with what I am calling " fishing lure syndrome". Just like attracting a fish into biting the hook, these designs are about creating an immediate reaction. You just can't help but notice it. It's about turning heads with surface embellishment, often irrational shapes, flashy colors and swirly whirly patterns that sometimes make me feel dizzy. Many times they look as though they were designed to be aerodynamic objects intended to fly through space at warp speed. Much to Rams' chagrin, fishing lure design is about "as much design as possible". There goes the 10th commandment. Computer store shelves are full of this type of design. Each manufacturer is desperately trying to outdo the other with new surface treatments or molding techniques, hoping to draw you closer to the hook. Don't let the big one get away.


Remind you of anything?

The question is simple. Which school of thought is right.? Do people want minimalist designs that soothe the soul and stress subtle perfection of execution, or do they want to make a flashy statement about themselves and their newly purchased technology marvel. As with any such debate, it's always possible the answer lies somewhere in the middle.  We should always recognize, however, that it's very hard to create something truly special when you aim for the middle.

David Hill