In a fast-paced high technology market where change dominates, the ThinkPad design approach of purposeful evolution is nearly unheard of. Porsche has certainly played this card well within the automobile industry, but I can’t think of any other computer company that has stuck to its guns for so long. None of our competitors can lay claim to a heritage or pedigree as deep as ours. Remember the translucent computer craze of 1999? I’m still trying to forget it. You can buy a ThinkPad today that has a clear connection to the original concept conceived by Richard Sapper in 1992. The simple black box he imagined has served us well.

After more than two decades of ThinkPad design evolution we’ve probably incorporated hundreds of modifications to 1992’s baseline 700c. As with all change, there are people who welcome it and others who are most comfortable without it. It’s unlikely that anyone would want a ThinkPad today that matches the 700c’s original thickness of 56mm, but some loyalists miss the 7 row keyboard. ThinkPad design, however, must continue to evolve to attract new customers and align with shifting market dynamics. With design, it’s nearly impossible to please everyone. Or is there a way?

The multi-colored logo is strongly connected to the heritage of ThinkPad

For a while now I’ve been exploring the idea of introducing a very unique ThinkPad model. Imagine a ThinkPad that embodies all the latest technology advances, however, embraces the original design details in the strongest way possible. I’ve been referring to the concept as retro ThinkPad. Imagine a blue enter key, 7 row classic keyboard, 16:10 aspect ratio screen, multi-color ThinkPad logo, dedicated volume controls, rubberized paint, exposed screws, lots of status LED’s, and more. Think of it like stepping into a time machine and landing in 1992, but armed with today’s technology. Although not for everyone, I’m certain there’s a group of people who would stand in line to purchase such a special ThinkPad model.

Is this the ThinkPad of choice for the design connoisseur, or is it too old school?

Approximately 18mm thin and ready for action

Are two ThinkLights better than one?

The design cues are strikingly similar to the milestone X300

In my opinion, there really is no other computer company that has the design DNA and pedigree to do this. You can read the book I wrote and designed on this topic here. Who would buy a droopy looking computer molded in translucent fruity colors? Carrying a non-descript beige plastic laptop with an outboard roller-ball is certainly retro, but it’s far from exhilarating. Historically inspired design only works when the original had the power to  move people. There has to be an emotional connection that is somehow rekindled with its rebirth. This design approach has worked for Ford’s Mustang, Dodge’s Challenger, Fiat’s 500 and the Mini Cooper; why not ThinkPad?

My intention in writing this blog and showing renderings of a retro ThinkPad concept is multi-fold. I’d like to test the resilience of building a historically inspired ThinkPad with potential customers and also get overall design feedback as we plan the next generation of ThinkPad offerings. Please remember actually bringing a retro inspired ThinkPad to market would require significant sales volumes to justify the development effort and tooling expense. I can’t promise anything at this point, it’s an idea.

Step with me now into the ThinkPad design time machine. Fasten your seat belt, settle in and share your thinking. Help me understand the retro ThinkPad opportunity, or help me shape the future of all our ThinkPads. If you think Lenovo should make the retro inspired ThinkPad, or have suggestions on how to make it better, please post your comments here. We're listening.

David Hill