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Beige Rectangles
Latch and follow is less than ideal
2 June 2020 . 3min read

I didn't use to have a phone. It took a good few years for me to get one. I just couldn't see why you would want to pro-actively talk to people. I've had a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) since the early 90s. I liked the separation of duties between the two. The PDA was about information. The phone was about communication.

This separation meant that each class of product was free to express itself in whatever design language it chose. Choosing a phone in the late 90s and early 00s was a delightfully diverse experience. It wasn't just about the features that were present; it was also about the look and feel. Companies produced massively varied product lines.

My preference seemed to have been Nokia, although I do admit to being diverted to the Motorola Razr V3i for a while, designed like a Star Trek communicator. The design was, and still is, iconic.

Nokia, too, had their design delights. The Nokia 7280 being of particular note. They designed it to look like a flattened lipstick or perhaps a perfume dispenser. It had a small screen, which faded to a mirror when off, to allow you to check your makeup. It had a small camera, but had no keyboard at all. Instead, just a tiny wheel was all you had. Listed by Fortune magazine as one of the best products, in 2004, and won design awards in 2005; this was and still is a highly desirable design marvel.

There was a choice in the extreme.

Now look at the current mobile device market. Rectangles.

Where we all get excited about an improved camera on the rectangle. Or the screen on a rectangle. Or the flashy colours of the rectangle. We really have lost something.

There has been such a convergence of design, and indeed of feature-sets, that everything has turned into a vanilla-black, beige landscape.

This tendency is everywhere. A race to be more like the perceived leader in the field.

Whilst there are outliers, such as Nintendo with its Switch, it just doesn't feel like there is enough.

I'm not saying that these products are bad, I mean it is great that I can instantly look up who was in a particular movie right from the palm of my hand. I guess I'm saying that the design-language has become a little stale.

So, why does this matter?

As I stated in Finishers & Completionists will kill us all. The lack of original and diverse ideas will be the undoing of us.

I think we can see it in how people act, or re-act, to situations. I'm not sure what it is called, but it feels like a herd of animals being directed or coerced from one side of the field to the other. I would say, who decided that we were in a field in the first place?

There is a tendency to locate the perceived ideal and then latch onto it. Be it a philosophical ideal, or a physical ideal. This latch-and-follow approach is worrying.

We certainly need that kind of behaviour. It can be a fantastically good thing, and is surely a requirement of a healthy society. But it shouldn't be the only thing.

Being different is not a cool thing. Sure, being different is a cool fashion statement, but it feels like having a group of different people is less acceptable that previously. Maybe I've got that entirely wrong. But as I wrote in on-off tribalism, the desire for categorisation is a bad thing.

There is a default position of suspicion to those who do not neatly fit into a box, rather than an acceptance.

I'm not saying that all forms of different-ness are good, rather that we give them a lower status than the herd.

This could be how the world works, and I'm just witnessing it more due to how easy it is to be seen and shown.

Then again, this might be the undoing of us all.

There are doors. There are doors with history. Then there is this door. I took this in Florence, Italy. It was a small door to a jeweller; full of life.


Profile photo of Nigel Derbyshire

I'm a carbon-unit who writes; a Carbon Writer. Life & culture are my default topics, mixed with a little English wit & sarcasm. Full of mostly true stories, I occasionally remember to write them down. Found in a crowd, or contemplating in a corner. Habit of talking to anyone. Author.
- Nigel Derbyshire