2 min read

Laptop design goes funky

Lenovo wants to be deliberately different when it comes to its notebooks in the market

When you lay eyes on a car, you get an instant impression of its characteristics, and often even know the make and model with a quick glance. Even I, whose automotive knowledge is more or less limited to recognizing my own car in the parking lot (most of the time), can identify a Jaguar or a Mercedes or a Corvette without looking at the logo or name plate – they have an unmistakable style.

It’s the same with some PCs. For example, when I see a black, squarish laptop with that telltale red trackstick, I know that I’m looking at a ThinkPad.

Research Triangle

On a recent trip to Lenovo’s facility in Research Triangle Park in Raleigh, N.C., we had the opportunity to see the evolution of that characteristic design, and some rather funky takes on future PCs.

During a tour of the User Experience and Design Center, David Hill, executive director of Lenovo corporate identity and design, showed visiting journalists the ThinkPad family tree.

The original machine, although its screen was smaller and it was a bit more boxy, looked very much like the newest ThinkPad on the market. Over the years, while we’ve seen a few variations on the theme like the Butterfly, with its unfolding keyboard, on the whole the ThinkPad has remained true to the original design.

In contrast, the new consumer and small business Lenovo-branded laptops (the 3000 series) are deliberately different. Warm silver outside, black inside, and curved on the back (where, Hill said, the cylindrical battery cells make this a logical shape) so they sit comfortably in the hand when carried, they are the antithesis of the corporate-looking ThinkPad.

At the same time, they do, deliberately, have a consistent look among all models of the line.

It’s all about branding, and here Lenovo faces an uphill battle. Everyone knows the ThinkPad – and “knows” that it comes from IBM. It’s a trusted name, and Lenovo is moving cautiously in its rebranding to avoid scaring customers and to preserve that trust, perhaps too cautiously. Many people still think IBM makes ThinkPads, a year after the Lenovo deal. “IBM” still appears on each machine; Lenovo is yet to be seen.

The Lenovo name will shortly appear on the ThinkPad (and the rebranding will begin in earnest), though those three magic letters, “IBM,” can also stay for awhile, thanks to agreements put in place when Lenovo bought IBM’s PC division.

The new Lenovo 3000 series, on the other hand, is, to most, an unknown quantity that is trying to build both a reputation and brand identity. To emulate the ThinkPad and create a profile that is instantly recognizable, Hill and his team, which span design centres in Japan, China and the U.S., had to do one “little” thing – dream up a classic design that is distinctive, yet functional and timeless: something that will say “Lenovo” to the observer.

Did they succeed? Who knows – we’ll find out in a few years if just a glance at a 3000 system will instantly evoke the Lenovo name.