Someone once described G.K. Chesterton as a man who could rediscover the magic of a lamp post every time he encountered one. He would experience it with a fresh mind, delighted by the post’s rigid contours or the magical glowing of the electrically-charged bulb. As much as I love Chesterton, I have to admit, I always thought this description of Chesterton was not meant kindly: hang out with the sort of giggling man-child constantly rediscovering the “magic” of salt shakers and mailboxes and I guarantee you’ll want to karate chop his thorax within a few minutes.
Still, I’d like to impart at least some tincture of that world view into my day-to-day life. After all, why do things always look like the things they look like? That may seem like a question only grammatically clever and in actuality pretty stupid, but bear with me: why must a stereo look like a stereo, or a computer look like a computer? Their appearances are only casings for the jumble of guts within. And, in truth, designers do seem to experiment with gadgets that eschew the traditional design motifs of, say, a “computer” or “stereo…” but ultimately, people don’t really want a G.K. Chesterton experience when they walk into a room. They don’t want to have to rediscover the magic of a computer or a stereo when they walk into a new room: they just want to be able to use it. Usability will always trump design in importance, and the truth of the matter is that 9/10ths of usability is through familiarity.
Anyway, just some early morning navel gazing, prompted by the Suissa Enlighten Computer… a wooden cased PC containing a quad-core Intel processor, a 1 TB drive and 4GB of memory and which looks absolutely nothing like a PC. You can’t buy it, only commission it, so it doubtlessly costs gobs. That’s fine: if it was more attainable, it might become popular, and if it became popular, it would be emulated, and then it’d lose its real appeal (at least to me): it’d start looking like a PC again.