REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 29, 2001 — Can the humble computer mouse and keyboard — products of an industry typically concerned with function and price — be considered works of art? Absolutely, according to two of the design industry’s most influential forces, the Industrial Design Society of America (IDSA) and New Yorks Museum of Modern Art. Both organizations have recently honored path-breaking designs by Microsoft for computer hardware.
Industrial Design Excellence Awards for 2001
Each year, the IDSA and BusinessWeek magazine partner to honor outstanding product designs with the Industrial Design Excellence Awards. Honors for 2001 include Microsofts IntelliMouse Optical and Trackball Explorer chosen, among other criteria, for superior aesthetics and functionality.
“Microsofts design team has done a remarkable job of taking products were all so familiar with and showing them in a whole new light,”
says Betty Baugh, president of the IDSA.
“The winning devices reflect a real understanding of the people wholl use these products. In addition, the award-winning designs create a completely new look for the computer-accessory category.”
What is Microsoft’s recipe for turning a seemingly utilitarian device, used by millions around the world, into a work of art? According to Ken Fry, manager of the Hardware Design Group at Microsoft, research provides the key ingredient.
“Customer feedback provides the impetus for our designs,”
“Every keyboard and mouse feature is a result of this feedback — from product color to texture, from key positioning to button assignment — our users play an instrumental role in each of our designs.”
Collaborating with individuals around the world, Fry’s team observes the physical, cognitive and emotional interactions people have with computer hardware in a variety of environments, ranging from how users approach the computer to how hardware is used to communicate with software. This information translates into comfort and style appointments to the designs.
“Workspheres” at Museum of Modern Art
Another important element in each design is innovation. This was also a determining criteria for products included in the New York Museum of Modern Arts “Workspheres” exhibition this year. The show studied the “changing nature of the workplace and the role of design in creating effective solutions,” according to its catalogue. Microsofts Trackball Optical and IntelliMouse Optical were used to highlight desktop products that exemplify these design solutions.
“Workspheres is a staged presentation of the sensible, well-designed tools and environments for the workplace in the early twentieth-first century,”
says Paola Antonelli, curator of the museums department of Architecture and Design.
“Designers are the best professionals to lead the way toward an updated, more appropriate workplace, a place that offers more communication choices, more freedom, more inspiration, more chances to interact, more methods of collaboration.”
Enhancing comfort in the workplace is the top priority of Edie Adams, Microsofts manager of user research for the Hardware Group.
“People are spending more and more time at their computers, both at work and home. Its not enough to design products people want to use,”
“but they must also be comfortable. Comfort is no longer just an option. To Microsoft, its essential in every piece of hardware we create.”
The Microsoft Hardware Groups newest mouse offering — the Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer – resulted from a commitment to researching comfort. Prior to product development, mouse users shared their preferences in mouse shape, size, color, button size and location. The resulting design incorporates this feedback to offer finger and thumb grooves, a thumb scoop, and soft-touch material for maximum support and comfort.
Research also provided insight into the color preferences of computer users. Customers associated titanium with concepts of innovation, while red evoked feelings of power. The resulting titanium finish and glowing red underside and taillight makes the Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer as aesthetically enhanced as it is comfortable.
Microsoft Hardware’s strongest suit is the ability to design hardware that is tightly integrated with software.
“As part of a software company, we have perspective that makes us unique in the hardware industry,”
explains Carl Ledbetter, industrial design manager at Microsoft.
“We have a holistic approach to ensure our products not only look and feel good at first impression, but more importantly, are comfortable and usable over the long-term.”