Not Everything has to be Minimalistic

CES is wrapped up this past week, and as usual there’s plenty of computer hardware manufacturers showing off their latest gadgets and computers and new hardware. Most will gradually make it to full-fledged production, but there’s also a fair share of bespoke, high-end gear akin to concept cars: more an aspirational showpiece than a production model, with the design and technology eventually making its way to more common items later.

Anyway, I came across this pair of articles from the Verge complaining about the gnarly, tacky designs of gaming PCs and routers how they look ridiculous compared to the typical sleek designs from Apple, Google et al. Initially, I found myself agreeing with their premise; modern design flows from Dieter Rams’s philosophies, and everyone has congregated around his idea of “timeless design” by continually iterating to remove superfluous parts.

But having everyone pile onto the same design ideas has resulted in homogeny and virtually identical outputs. The new Google Pixel phones look and feel remarkably similar to the iPhone, and that shouldn’t be a surprise; the smartphone form factor has iterated to the end of the design curve, where minimalist aesthetics and ergonomics have converged to the same end-product. Consumer gadgetry — watches, tablets, wearables — end up looking more similar than different.

And this is not confined to just hardware form factors either. Flat design has been in-vague for a couple of years now, and it has cast the same spell of similarity across icons, site layouts, app workflows, and Dribbble showcases. Ironically, the entire creative aspect of design is giving way to a ubiquitous style popularized by Apple, and somehow it has come to wholly represent “good taste”.

So in a way, I like that gaming PC makers aren’t backing down from putting in look-at-me neon lights with the blessing of their core gaming audiences1. It’s supposed to look ridiculous…because that’s the design that works for its audience.

  1. Though admittedly, I find the aesthetic tacky myself and took the “tiny black box” route when I built my own PC.

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