The state we are in …
This image signifies for me the state we have reached in the design of consumer electronic products. It is part of a national newspaper print advertisement campaign by John Lewis some time during 2007. I first thought this was meant to be ironic, unfortunately it is not. When we look at the advertisement we see “identical” black squares arranged in increasing order of price. Each representing a TV unit identified by a slapped on brand logo of the manufacturer. Underneath three numbers; a serial product identifier for the manufacturer, a price label and a stock number by John Lewis.
These products have gained such a level of commoditization that it is rather difficult to discuss differences in subtle technical features commonly used to compete between consumer electronics in the past. The image and sound quality of most products is at such a level that most users are hard pressed to tell the difference on shelves in the showroom.
There is a hint in the small print underneath stating that these displays could fullfil different roles in individual lifestyle tastes like football, tennis, films and nature. The only promise is to offer personal advice to “choose” the right product and compete on price but especially warranty. This warranty is an interesting issue especially when product ranges have matured to a point where there are less incentives to replace an item before it dies just because some technical feature has improved. On the other hand there is little in these type of products that should go wrong.
As the frame to hold the technology shrinks and the graphic content on the display dominates there is little left for an industrial designer to do. The physical aspect of the design becomes truly transparent.
I am interested to see if part of the current economic downturn is fueled by a combination of saturated markets and the simultaneous maturisation of a range of technologies. More about this another time