Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Why the iPod looks clean.
September 13, 2005 9:17 PM   Subscribe

Why does the iPod look so clean?
posted by Tlogmer (53 comments total)

 
Obviously the people of Frog Design have not been in my bathroom.
posted by spacewaitress at 9:20 PM on September 13, 2005


So the iPod looks like a toilet?

Um, whatever. People need to realize that not all the analogies they draw nessisaraly mean anything.
posted by delmoi at 9:22 PM on September 13, 2005


Wow, what a dumb article.
posted by angry modem at 9:43 PM on September 13, 2005


iPood.
posted by louigi at 9:44 PM on September 13, 2005


spacewaitress beat me to it.

I had many similar thoughts, delmoi. I thought the discussion of why something might feel or look "cheap" was instructive: here's a thought: because it is cheap. Cheap materials, cheap manufacturing processes, produce cheap merchandise.

Similarly, basinry conventions (yeah, i made that up) strike me as predominantly practical: I want my bathtub to be shiny and hard because that's easier to clean, I want it to be smooth and rounded so that gunk doesn't collect in nooks and crannies.

I think there is something to the article, if they weren't so literal-minded: perhaps what the iPod looks like is a little appliance - rather than that gadgety, gizmo, Star Trek look some trinkets have, it has this plain functionality look.
posted by nanojath at 9:47 PM on September 13, 2005


I liked the article
posted by johngoren at 9:48 PM on September 13, 2005


Aaand... louigi wins. Thread's over!
posted by nanojath at 9:48 PM on September 13, 2005


i agree with johngoren, i thought that was an interesting design insight. these objects obviously hold a peculiar fascination that transcends their utility, at least in my experience with them.

i found their example, how automotive and aeronautic design had major impacts in the kitchen of all places, persuasive with regard to their contention. QED.
posted by Hat Maui at 9:56 PM on September 13, 2005


that said, iShit.
posted by Hat Maui at 9:58 PM on September 13, 2005


People need to realize that not all the analogies they draw necessarily mean anything.

I wish delmoi were my Freshman English professor.
posted by Kwantsar at 10:03 PM on September 13, 2005


If you've ever stuck one up your ass, to see what REO speedwaggon sounded like up your ass, or something, you'd know that they are not easily cleanable.

I vote for the teflon(tm) Ipod. That said, I have an Iriver.
posted by Balisong at 10:41 PM on September 13, 2005


What I find most interesting is that, coincidentally, only a few hours ago, it occurred to me that iPods look like smaller versions of household fixtures. It also occurred to me that they won't be that beautiful white forever. We'll start to see junked iPods that look like discarded refrigerators left on the sidewalk. And while new white appliances and fixtures define a certain appeal (fresh, hygienic, etc), they quickly cross over the line and become utterly repellant. That is, if a immaculate toilet represents a particular aesthetic, an even slightly dingy toilet represents exactly the opposite.
So, keep your iPods clean, otherwise they'll gross you out. I mean, they're so pristine and stainless, once you manhandle them with your dirty paws for a few months, it'll start to look like a urinal in a dirty bar.


I vote for the teflon(tm) Ipod.

iPhalon
posted by Jon-o at 10:49 PM on September 13, 2005


My iPod is a dirty, dirty bitch.
posted by chasing at 10:52 PM on September 13, 2005


If you've ever stuck one up your ass, to see what REO speedwaggon sounded like up your ass, or something, you'd know that they are not easily cleanable.

iSwearIFellOnMineByAccidentDoc
posted by Rothko at 10:52 PM on September 13, 2005


I have thought of iPods as having a clean design, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with cleanliness.

Rather, for me, a 'clean' design means 'minimalist'... the opposite of 'complex'. It has exactly what it needs for perfect functionality and not one iota more.

Color has little to do with it. It's still clean design if it's blue, black, or any other simple color. Complex color patterns would reduce the apparent simplicity and impair the clean design. No tiger-striped or plaid iPods, please. :)
posted by Malor at 10:58 PM on September 13, 2005


The tireless Frog PR machine wheezes into action...

Frog used to design for Apple in the early days (Macintosh Classic) so it's tempting to suggest they are trying to prop up their currently jaded reputation by invoking past glory.

Interesting, but it doesn't explain way the black iPod nano looks so surgically clean and gorgeous.
posted by marvin at 11:00 PM on September 13, 2005


Uh... yeah. I'm sure these designers wax their anuses and their bathtubs sparkle. No doubt. As for the rest of us, I thought it looked clean because it was white with very few, low profile controls.
posted by scarabic at 11:00 PM on September 13, 2005



posted by knave at 11:20 PM on September 13, 2005


I've worked at ad agencies for a long time. Because I have a research background I also did some account planning, where we used focus groups, one-on-one interviews, you name it to get at the "core" of a product. It was all pretty much BS. As is this article I hate to say.

People love to overthinking things. The iPod is clean, well because it is CLEAN! Just waht "scarabic" just said.

But heck, those guys at Frog Design are making maybe $400 an hour, so what do I know.
posted by webranding at 11:37 PM on September 13, 2005


...as well.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:04 AM on September 14, 2005


I have a black nano, and it looks clean despite the not-white-bathtub-look. I think it's just good design...
posted by nile_red at 12:36 AM on September 14, 2005


P.S. no via gizmodo?
posted by nile_red at 12:38 AM on September 14, 2005


or a simple link to frog design?
posted by Frasermoo at 1:11 AM on September 14, 2005


Apple's best trick is to make complicated machines that are nonetheless small, light, smooth (seamless and easy to pocket), attractive, and easy to use. That an iPod might look a little bit like a bathtub means nothing except that the reductive design of both items leaves them few ways in which to differ. For the same reason, an iPod equally looks a bit like a toaster or a stove or a fridge.

delmoi: ...not all the analogies they draw nessisaraly mean anything.
Kwantsar: I wish delmoi were my Freshman English professor.
me: trying to decide whether that's a joke about spelling.

posted by pracowity at 1:21 AM on September 14, 2005


Whether or not we see it, Frog Design probably did think of these things when considering what the iPod should be made of, how it felt, how it looked and what they want to evoke. It's not just a flippant post-design analogy.

And it's not that particularly brilliant or radical either. It's just good, well reasoned and thoughtful design.

Of course, it's easy to say in retrospect "hey, make it look like an old streamlined toaster!"

But then, the majority of portable audio offerings at the time were going for that high-technology tape deck or car stereo aesthetic with lots of fiddly little chunks and bits, and lots of harshly defined physical buttons. Not to mention cramming as many bright blue LEDs as you could in it.

Or worse, these portable devices evoked desktop hardware and the blandness of external storage devices. Because that's the kind of companies that were making them - peripheral manufacturers or traditional portable audio companies.

The iPod's design was a total departure from this. But not a huge departure for Apple, because they already had a sort of neo-Streamline theme going on with their iMac offerings, especially as the eMac and new white iMacs and iBooks started coming out with the same sort of "enameled appliance" aesthetic along with the iPods.

I find it interesting how Apple and Frog Design are able to walk a thin line between non-threatening and perversely sexy, between cute and cuddly and somehow monolithically omninous.

Now if cell phone designers would just take a hint. 99% of the phones I see disgust me with their needless opulance and crappy chrome-plated plastic costume jewelry fashion statement aesthetic. Oh, sure. I guess those sculpted and contoured 4-way navigation buttons look kind of neat. And those oddly shaped keypads. Yay for you, industrial designer, you've finally applied all that clay-sculpting and shiny-exciting amorphic blob-ness talent you learned at Art Center to a Real World product.

But they're hellish to use, and totally pointless. And all that chrome and glitter just wears off (and wears on, and on) so quickly. Go design jewelry or faux-athletic fashion shoes if that's what you really want to do, but stop making my electronics hard to use and more expensive. (/me misses the monolithic functional designs of the Motorola StarTacs with flat, square keypads.)

Apple and Frog Design really should design and sell a PDA/MP3 camera phone. They could sell it at a huge premium and people would snap it up, just because it wasn't ugly and it worked well.
posted by loquacious at 1:52 AM on September 14, 2005


it's also worth noting that the ipod's minimalist design makes reference to a whole history of design (especially bauhaus) that actually also had a great impact on standard bathroom fixtures. bahaus-influenced design is kind of a benchmark for "clean." so I would argue they just happend to find an example of this in the bathroom, but you could also find it in plain white coffee cups.

also, as a side note, the ipod took a lot of its design from these although not really the 'clean' part
posted by huffa at 2:06 AM on September 14, 2005


loquacious: Frog design didn't design the iPod, so it is just a flippant post-design analogy, and one that's had a completely content-free fluff article built around it. Bleh.
posted by cillit bang at 2:08 AM on September 14, 2005


Ah. Scratch that, then. I saw Apple //c and NeXT box and assumed there was a Jobs-Frog design connection.
posted by loquacious at 2:36 AM on September 14, 2005


also, as a side note, the ipod took a lot of its design from these although not really the 'clean' part

I had necer noticed that before, cheers huffa
posted by twistedonion at 3:40 AM on September 14, 2005


28 comments and no one points out that the iPod looks clean because of its resemblance to Paul McCartney's grandfather?
posted by kimota at 4:08 AM on September 14, 2005


If my bathtub played music I'd be so psyched! If my iPod sprayed water I'd be pissed. Of course, it isn't a bidet. Of course I don't have an iPod.
posted by OmieWise at 5:31 AM on September 14, 2005


new white appliances and fixtures define a certain appeal

Just thinking of that story about the time GE hired Picasso to consult on refrigerator design. Having cashed his six-figure check he offers this advice:

"I am not so sure about the shape, but the color should definitely be white."
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:40 AM on September 14, 2005


... if they weren't so literal-minded ...

That's the problem with metaphors: They get taken too literally. A little metaphor goes a long way.

I'm with the crowd here that thinks "minimal" is sufficient to explain "clean". People used to say the same thing about B&O audio equipment, and it sure as hell didn't look like somebody's bathroom. And anyway, what's "universal"? Who's this "everyone" that's saying "it looks clean"? Just about everyone here knows something about design -- we use design vocabulary terms, and in those terms "clean" more or less conflates to "minimal."

loquacious: I find it interesting how Apple and Frog Design are able to walk a thin line between non-threatening and perversely sexy, between cute and cuddly and somehow monolithically omninous.
[....]
But [current cell phone designs] hellish to use, and totally pointless.


Yes, that's true, they do. But would it work if they weren't Apple? Would they be able to pull it off without having established a "brand" that was both cute and cuddly but somehow monolithically ominous?

I think the best way to understand the appeal of Apple may well be (and I blame this insight on loquacious, because i haven't thought of it precisely this way before) as a "secret society": Exclusive, mysterious, and bound up with an idea that it somehow empowers its membership. Being a Mac user is a little like being a Mason. Or, at least, a little like people think of Mason-hood, since probably most of us have never even met someone they knew to be a Mason.

As for cell phones -- abso-effing-lutely. Goddam. These things are AWFUL. What's this obsession with surface-flush buttons? If the buttons are raised, they're much easier to press if you have average sized fingers, like me; with flush buttons, I risk pressing more than one button all the time. and the irregular shape of the buttons makes them hard to find in the dark. And would it kill them to establish a little consistency in the UI? God-DAMN....
posted by lodurr at 5:55 AM on September 14, 2005


So is this why iPods aren't as populor/ubiquitous in China? At least with the Chinese.
posted by geekyguy at 6:16 AM on September 14, 2005


Is there a possibility that the market for ipods might already be a bit saturated? It appears that apples goal is to keep selling the same thing to people who already have one. Pretty soon everyone is going to have an ipod for every day of the week.
posted by Acuba at 6:25 AM on September 14, 2005


I liked the article -- thanks for posting.

Being a Mac user is a little like being a Mason.

Actually, it's nothing like that. It's exactly like this:
When you buy our products, and three months later you get stuck on something, you quickly figure out [how to get past it]. And you think, "Wow, someone over there at Apple actually thought of this!" And then three months later you try to do something you hadn't tried before, and it works, and you think "Hey, they thought of that, too." And then six months later it happens again. There's almost no product in the world that you have that experience with, but you have it with a Mac. And you have it with an iPod.
The "appeal of Apple" is no mystery.
posted by sudama at 6:26 AM on September 14, 2005


It's funny -- as I do work on my PowerBook or my Mini, I much more often think "Why didn't someone at Apple think of this?" than I do "Oh, wow, how amazing that someone at Apple thought of this!"

You're right -- the appeal of Apple is no mystery. It's marketing via snob appeal. That's the only rational explanation for the perpetuation of the "Apple is Powerful" meme.
posted by lodurr at 6:35 AM on September 14, 2005


I've only ever actually touched one iPod in my life and I have to say it was incredibly disappointing.
After seeing all those lovely photos, in the hand it turned out to be another cheap piece of plastic crap with a gimrack plastic wheel on the front.

A friend of mine has just got a new Motorola phone (model unknown) that has a metal case and is genuinely sexy to the touch.
posted by Joeforking at 6:38 AM on September 14, 2005


The monolith had the proportions of the golden rectangle, right? How close are the iPod Nano's proportions to that?
posted by keswick at 9:32 AM on September 14, 2005


The monolith was much taller Golden Rectangle

The nano is narrower as well.
posted by Phantomx at 10:21 AM on September 14, 2005


keswick: The monolith's proportions were 1 x 4 x 9, the significance being that they are the first three perfect squares of natural numbers.
posted by rocket88 at 10:28 AM on September 14, 2005


28 comments and no one points out that the iPod looks clean because of its resemblance to Paul McCartney's grandfather?

While Paul McCartney's grandfather is certainly a very clean old man, I always thought the iPod was modeled after Paul McCartney's Penis (MP3).
posted by afx114 at 10:38 AM on September 14, 2005


A friend of mine has just got a new Motorola phone (model unknown) that has a metal case and is genuinely sexy to the touch.

The Motorola RAZR perhaps? I've heard and read that while the form-factor and physical design is spectacular, the software is SHIT, and almost completely ruins the phone. It's a shame too, because if the software was as good as the form factor, I'd buy one in a second.

It's interesting when people think of the design of the iPod, only the form factor and hardware comes to mind, with not a mention of the software UI of the iPod, which is pretty damn slick itself.
posted by afx114 at 10:42 AM on September 14, 2005


the monolith was 1 x 4 x 9, (the squares of 1, 2, and 3)
posted by bashos_frog at 10:44 AM on September 14, 2005


what the fuck was that?
posted by mrgrimm at 10:44 AM on September 14, 2005


damn, I'm slow.
posted by bashos_frog at 10:45 AM on September 14, 2005


"Because, as you know, it is better to look good than to feel good, my dahlings..." --Billy Crystal as Fernando
posted by gimonca at 11:58 AM on September 14, 2005


The strength of Apple's UI is that they're aimed at ordinary users rather than power users and technophiles. They're just complete enough so that many technophiles will still like them -- and elegance is a virtue appreciated by your true geek as well. But Apple's UIs tend to be unsatisfying for the deeply nerdy. I find Aqua's virtually nonexistent out-of-the-box customizability rather annoying (and the lower-left-corner-only resizing ridiculous) and when I fool with my wife's iPod I'm all, "is that it? Is that all it does?". But for people who just want it to do one thing really well it's unmatched. And it has the rare virtue of never crashing (in my experience). Though I wish I could say the same for OS X.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:14 PM on September 14, 2005


OS X user interface is only simplistic on the surface, after using it for 3+ years, I definately appreciate all the keyboard shortcuts, and UI elements.

And it has the rare virtue of never crashing (in my experience). Though I wish I could say the same for OS X.

I'm not sure how long you've used the iPod, but I've had the opposite experience. My iPod crashes much more than I'd like, and my Mac almost never crashes.
posted by splatta at 3:06 PM on September 14, 2005


I routinely hang Finder hard enough that I have to hard-reset the system to kill it. I spent an hour yesterday trying variations on the kill command to terminate hung shell commands (mostly rsync, but a couple of ls commands on mounted network drives).

It's true, OSX has yet to crash for me the way my SO's son's XP box routinely does*, but it's not the bulletproof thing it's so often presented as being.

I also used to crash Linux pretty routinely, too.

The most solid OS I've used so far is easily Win2K SP2 on my Athlon-powered ShuttleXP. Want to kill a process? Piece of cake. Leave it running for a month? No problem. Restart MySQL and Apache a half a dozen times in a half an hour? What, me worry?

Thing is, the MS OSs are always solid or not solid on specific platforms. A friend insisted that he ran Win98SE for six months straight on a business-class Dell laptop, one of their old 133MHz bricks. But WinME used to crash about once a day on my old HP, and Win2K BSODs about once every thirty hours of runtime on my Sony Picturebook. Apple has the distinct advantage that they get to make the hardware and tailor it to their OS (and vice-versa). So we should expect it to fail less. A lot less. Which it does. Note for example that my own complaints are probably not related in any way to the hardware.

--
* I remember when XP came out, MS said they'd dramatically reduced the number of Blue Screens Of Death [BSOD]. And they had. Because now instead of showing a BSOD, the system just restarts....
posted by lodurr at 4:21 PM on September 14, 2005


Cleanly designed audio equipment? Linn CD12. The end.
posted by NucleophilicAttack at 4:46 PM on September 14, 2005


Linn CD12: http://www.audiorevolution.com/equip/linncd12/
If by "cleanly designed" you mean "copied tivo" I agree with you, but there doesn't seem to be any controlls on the front of this thing. The iPod is cleanly designed and functional.

And for $20,000 the linn cd12 should look more sexy than a generic set-top box computer case.
posted by splatta at 5:02 PM on September 14, 2005


P.S. no via gizmodo?

nile_red, it's a link to gizmodo, for crying out loud.
posted by mendel at 8:25 AM on September 15, 2005


« Older Poignant Passports....   |   Benjamin Hackett... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments