I finally got around to writing this as AMC's TV series Halt and Catch Fire has inspired me to actually create something. Recently, I've noticed that every designer's goal when creating new hardware or software is to make it look as sterile and cold as possible. Apple is certainly leading this front and, as always, most tech companies simply conform to Apple's design trends. I'm a rather advanced user when it comes to technology, but I find that a lot of the recent designs I'm seeing are almost repelling rather than inviting. This new trend is in stark contrast to the design standards practiced during the dawn of personal computing. (Note: I am a Linux fanboy and not part of the Cult of Mac, I just appreciate some of their earlier designs). The original Macintosh which was released in 1984 featured the approachable icons of artist Susan Kare, when you booted up the system you were greeted with a smiley face, the title bars on windows were pinstriped, and the Apple logo featured a rainbow design. It's enclosure may have been an ugly beige, but it had a much warmer feeling than the cold chrome design of it's 2014 counterpart.
This just goes to show that seemingly innocuous, tiny details resonate in user's minds long after they've moved on to a new product. The same principle applies to physical design. The original iconic Macintosh may have been a warm yet ugly beige colored toaster, but the iMac G3 of 1998 was certainly anything but. The beautiful case came in up to 13 different colors, including blueberry, strawberry, tangerine, grape, lime, graphite, ruby, sage, snow, indigo, "Blue Dalmatian" and "Flower Power." This wide spectrum of colors allowed the user to express their taste and individuality, and in the words of Steve Jobs, "You almost want to lick it." This idea of customization had disappeared from Apple designs with the exception of more recent lines of iPods until the release of the iPhone 5c. However, take a look at Apple's current line of computers. Each model, aside from the new Mac Pro which looks like a black trash can, has the same cold, sterile chrome exterior and an OS to match. I'm not hating on the minimalist approach by Jony Ive, I just feel like some character has been lost in computing since the race to have the most aesthetically futuristic device was procreated.
I briefly mentioned marketing earlier, and I think that subject should be revisited. Computers should be more than just a utilitarian machine to do work, it should be a part of your life as well. Earlier marketing strategies attempted to integrate the computer as being more than an employee, but a companion as well. Its about that cold Christmas morning that you open your new computer. Its those late nights that stretch into the early hours of the morning you spend furiously programming or writing to meet a tight deadline. Its a part of your life thats dedicated to work, play and growth.
Maybe I'm just too old school and clinging to a past that I missed out on due to my unfortunately recent birth date, but I think there's some validity to this idea. The only thing that recent technology lacks is character, and I don't think its too late to get that back.