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There are a lot of options to protect a mobile phone – cases, skins, holsters, pouches and sleeves – but most come with a trade-off. It isn’t easy to find something that protects AND appreciates the nuances of the design. Which got me thinking, why should my phone even need a cover?

It would be a shame to keep a beautiful object, a work of artistry, constantly under wraps for the fear of ruining it. When it comes to my phone, I don’t want to muddle the design by covering it up. I like the way the controls and finishes feel in my hands. To me, covering it implies that I am embarrassed about my phone, or that my usage is so callous I could ruin it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect my phone to last forever, just to weather well before the end of my annual contract. Perhaps there are avenues worth exploring that could allow consumer electronics to age gracefully.

Things like quality furniture or jeans can actually look and feel better with age, introducing a dignified look that comes naturally with wear. I wonder if it’s possible for consumer devices to move past plastics and embrace materials such as leather or denim. This is already happening to create visual or tactile appeal. Concepts have been proposed for laptops with leather detailing and wood grain finishes. However, I think it would be interesting to consider using these types of materials specifically with regard to wearing. While some surfaces or details need to be scratch resistant, other areas do not, creating an opportunity for wear to become part of the appeal.

A big part of the success of a product comes from creating an emotional connection with it. While part of this connection comes from personalizing design, much of it comes from usage. Users today can customize portions of the design according to their taste. Why not consider personalization before the time of purchase? If finishes were meant to leverage patterns of usage and wear, it could be possible to create unique ‘fingerprints’ that tell an indelible story of the life of the product. Take industrial metals as an example. A phone devised of copper, zinc or steel would wear naturally just as those made of soft materials. Because of these wear-friendly materials, each and every phone would be one of a kind based solely on usage. Having something that is uniquely yours solidifies an emotional bond, creating a deeper relationship with the product.

Like works of art, well-designed products have a beauty that should not be hidden. There have always been skins for products – there always will be. If consumers do choose to dress up their device with things like charms, socks or tattoos, it should result from a bond with the product or a desire to make a personal statement. Accessories should exist to enhance design, not to cover up its shortcomings. I can’t imagine Leonardo da Vinci being happy should someone decide to laminate the Mona Lisa just to protect it.

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Discussion (2) Comment

  1. georgeVisitor

    …but isn’t the Mona Lisa displayed in the Louvre behind a sheet of laminated glass? Although I think I’d be slightly missing the point by facetiously mentioning that 😉 Excellent article, I agree that ‘design for use’ should consider how products wear and age. A nice example of this are these teacups by Bethan Laura Wood.

  2. Robert BlaichVisitor

    My friend and mentor, Charles Eames, often used the term “Good Goods”- a kind of shorthand for objects that one just looks at and,without a lot of analysis, knows it’s good. The Good Goods, in Charles mind, uncompromisingly met the highest standards of design; these were objects he would like to own and surround himself with. One such example is the iconic Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman.
    Designed in 1956 and continually in production for over 50 years, The use of a moulded plywood frame and sumptuous leather clad cushions, materials that are enriched with use and the users often become emotionally attached to the chair. I and my family have enjoyed ours for those 50 years and they are considered a family treasure.


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