How design works: the colours of digital hardware

We live in an era of new products with short life spans. There’s been a whole lot of work for product designers in the past few decades. Digital hardware, for example, has been all around us for about 50 years. Personal computers and their related hardware were all designed at some point. And although this area is driven by technology, the components needed a housing.

In the early years, almost every home computer (yeah kids, old words) looked the same. Macbelievers will already be objecting, but let’s ignore this group of users, who were very much a minority back then (in the 70s and 80s). They were solid beige blocks made from stiff plastic, which looked very technical, with no refinements at all. Semantics was off holidaying on another planet. Most likely, the look of the computers was the work of technical engineers rather than designers. The idea of user-centred design hadn’t been invented.

The era of beige/light grey stiffness lasted through the 70s and 80s. But because everything submits to fashion eventually, along came the black variant. The darkness of the housing was seen as signifying class, solidity and, yeah, cool. There were the 90s. Maybe it was a doom-laden atmosphere that pushed us towards these dark shades. The end of the millennium, you know. We even got a bit of stealth styling – edgy corners and 45° slant planes.

In the new millennium, we discovered the cleanness and lightness of smooth, white machines (are you still reading, Apple lovers?). And if it wasn’t white, we favoured a classy light grey. Softer machines, softer looks.

In recent years, we’ve all turned toward aluminium grey or space grey (which is a big colour family in itself). And all this time, only a minority of brands, or even products within a brand, used any colour in a smart way; not just as decoration, but as a part of their identity.

This is a long run-up to finally complimenting Xtorm. Their power bank is not only good quality (see the tech reviews), but also an attractive product with a defined identity. They use a simple set of colours (white, grey and orange) to make a beautiful, covetable power bank with a well-functioning and simple user interface. But the best part is the USB cable, which lies smoothly in the overall housing, and which is still very visible, as the designers used orange to highlight it. So, the colour is an essential, functional part of the design. It gives the product an identity and at the same time, explains how it works.

That’s what I call smart design