Magazine

Getting There with Style to Spare


Getting around has never been such fun. A newly designed drive system on the leaf-green Deere (DE) lawn tractor allows for a zero turning radius: It gives its operator the maneuverability to turn on a dime when mowing those miles of suburban lawn on the weekend. For pure aquatic excitement, take an old-fashioned pontoon boat, reconfigure it to create a special compartment for the kids, then propel it through the water--very fast--with jet-powered engines. Bombardier's Islandia boat has a lot of space for socializing, it's stable, and it has a "head" that can accommodate someone who's as tall as 6 feet, 2 inches. For sheer emotional appeal, the PT Cruiser from Chrysler Corp. (DCX) is a grabber. Its retro design from the 1940s makes for a crossover hot-rod--one that has a sensible four-cylinder price and lots of interior space. A removable shelf doubles as a tabletop for tailgate parties. IBM (IBM) won five awards in 2001, more than any other corporation. With the Netvista X40i, Big Blue radically redesigned the PC, hiding drives, circuit boards, and accessory cards behind a large flat screen. Press a button, and a hidden bay containing the DVD and diskette drives descends gracefully for access. For those embarrassed to bring a laptop to a meeting, the TransNote allows you to take digital notes on a notepad. Designers joined a small laptop to a notepad with a folding hinge. The laptop senses what is being written for later editing. IBM brought unity to its wildly successful but increasingly incompatible line of ThinkPad laptops with an innovative port that lets people connect to a variety of options. It also designed a ThinkLight that illuminates the keyboard in dark places such as an airline cabins. Philips' (PHGZF) reputation for first-rate high-tech design received a boost with its ToUcam V-Mail camera. Clawlike legs hook over both PC and laptop screens, giving the colorful ToUcam video camera the appearance of a toucan bird perched on its legs. The Palm M100 has a rounder, friendlier shape than the sleek Palm V and colorful, interchangeable faceplates. PowerPoint goes vertical with the Compaq MP2800 Microportable Projector. Compaq Computer (CPQ) reshaped the traditional flat projector. A red LED glow reflecting its optical sensor technology, plus a metallic finish, makes Microsoft's TrackBall Explorer mouse shine. Research and strategy for corporate clients are playing ever bigger roles in product design. For Amtrak's first high-speed train, IDEO put together a three-pronged strategy--focusing on customer service, branding of the Acela name, and more comfortable and accessible rolling stock. To compete with air shuttles, IDEO designed a European rail-travel experience, not just a train.

Ziba's redesign of all FedEx World Service Centers focused on the interactive experience between the customer and the agent. Designers videotaped, interviewed, and role-played to understand the physical and behavioral barriers between customers and agents. They then designed a more open environment to bring them together, with modular and flexible furniture that FedEx can configure to suit its centers around the world. The first Jeep boom box was retro--with analog knobs, deep yellow color, and a boxy shape. The new Jeep Titanium CD Boombox by Fitch Inc. jumps to the future with a brushed metallic finish, digital controls, and big, round speakers. The TDK Stack CD Case is designed by IDEO to protect just the bottom half of the CD. The design cuts manufacturing materials in half, reduces the size of the case, and allows CD-maker TDK to sell more products in stores. Emerson Tool Co.'s Ridgid RoboHammer has a thin slot in the head that connects to an oval-shaped hole filled with shock-absorbing material; hit a nail, and there's less recoil. ZIBA Design redesigned flash-memory storage into a "cool" tool. The FlashKey lets people share music files and fits into a shirt pocket. The design of the Congo Gorilla Forest at the Bronx Zoo puts people in the center of a gorilla habitat at eye level, breaking down the barriers between viewer and viewed. The Wildlife Conservation Society wanted to remake the very concept of "zoo," changing it from a place where people see animals behind barriers to one where they can experience the animals' own world. Helpern Architects used full-length windows to bring the two species together safely. The 1 1/2-inch glass is thick enough to withstand a charge from a 400-pound, 6-foot male silverback gorilla. Interactive displays teach about conservation and the loss of the animals' habitat.

Information clusters, mosaics, projections, and sophisticated graphics inside the Rose Center for Earth & Space/American Museum of Natural History in New York City inspire awe and curiosity about the planet and the cosmos beyond. Dennis Carlson designs military weapons and systems. His THAAD (Theater High-Altitude Area Defense) Mobile Command Shelter Concept reworks the ongoing $17 billion missile defense project. By bundling components into simple, modular "electric sticks," the Army can cut the time needed to set up in the field, replace civilian technicians with onsite soldiers, and reduce costs. Carlson designed the THAAD with the user, not the technology, in mind. So did Charis Ng, a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. Pulling a cold IV pole around hospital corridors can be uncomfortable and humiliating, so Ng designed a backpack IV that patients can just carry. Samsung, one of Asia's leaders in design, shaped its Compact Mobile Phone concept like a woman's compact. It opens to show a large screen, good for 3G text and graphics, and a big keyboard. Calls are made with an earpiece.


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