Towering Design

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Worms-eye View

We just announced a series of new ThinkCentre all business desktops with a revitalized design. My favorite is the A Series tower. Towers just seem more interesting from a design perspective. The are almost like designing a skyscraper. Similar proportions and monolithic forms  make the connection for me. I guess I am not the only one to make this connection, so do many photographers.  Computer towers are often photographed for marketing materials with a perspective that strongly reinforces that connection. I have seen more worms-eye views of towers than I can even begin to remember. I admit they look more dramatic, menacing and powerful from a low angle, but these views have nothing to do with how you actually use or interact with one. Is the architecture connection one about drama or reality?

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 Previous Generation Tower as Seen From a Chair

Lets face it , for the most part towers end up on the floor with a discombobulated snarl of cables, disgusting dust bunnies and last months cracker crumbs. We see them from above,  not from below. That epiphany was the inspiration for the new design. When we reviewed study models during the development process I refused to comment on the design unless the models  were placed on the floor and I was seated next to them like a real user. I wasn't trying to be an overbearing boss, my intention was to force a new way of thinking into the design process. It became very obvious to me that  most towers were not designed with this in mind. Power switches, USB ports, audio jacks, etc. were often place too close to the floor or were impossible to see  or use from a natural seated position. Can you imagine using your cars CD player if it were mounted under the seat where you couldn't possibly see or touch the controls? You would have to become adept at using your foot to insert the disk I suppose.

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New Design as Seen From a Chair

After creating numerous sketches and study models  of different design variations,  we finally zeroed in on a configuration that moved the power switch to the top of an angled handle and inclined all the other connectors on a similar upward facing plane. The difference in being able to see and use them is astonishingly simple, but  superior. We made sure the power switch is protected from accidental use by angling the plane on which it is located and by encircling it with a raised chrome ring. This is similar to what you might find on a piece of military hardware.  You don't want to accidently push some buttons in that environment either. The dot in the center of the button neatly illuminates when the machine is powered on and is easy to see. We retained a carry  handle that we pioneered back in the PS/1 days not only for convenience but to give the machine a distinctive character and profile.

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Carry Handle

One other goal we had was to simplify the overall visual impression of the machine, while staying true to the well established Think design language. Simple is at the root of  Think design. To achieve that goal we covered the optical drives with simple flaps that automatically fold down when the media is ejected . They also protect the drives from dust and dirt when not being used. The eject buttons are aligned to the side of the machine  so you can easily find them by sliding your hand down the edge until you feel them. We added new inclined venting that matches the pattern on our ThinkVision monitors and adds a jaunty quality.  If it weren't for those pesky heat dissapation requirements we would have preferred none. Why didn't we do this concept sooner? I'm not really sure how to answer that.  Design inspiration can come at any time from market research, customer feedback, a flea market, or good old design intuition.  Sometimes all it takes is a new point of view. 

David Hill