Over the weekend, I had the fortune to tour Hancock Shaker Villa in Hancock, MA. The settlement was founded by the Shakers in 1783 and remained active through 1960; it now functions as a museum. Though I found much of their beliefs intriguing—like pacifism, celibacy, and communal living—it’s their art, architecture, and craftsmanship that is the most relevant to this blog. The works that the Shakers produced were not just simple, but also purposeful. Their ladder black chairs with woven seats, for instance, were fast and easy to produce. The interiors of rooms were standardized and mass produced, yet the originality and quality of design was not diminished. When one walks through a space, it’s apparent how their philosophy of “form fits function” has influenced American architecture. Rooms are designed to maximize lighting naturally, built-in cabinets abound, lines are clean, and little details, like peg rails for hanging miscellaneous clothing, demonstrate their emphasis on utility. Perfection in one's work was seen as an act of prayer in itself.
A distinguishing feature of the Shakers from other religious groups, like the Amish, is that they utilized and welcomed advances in technology. For example, a state-of-the-art water turbine powered many of the tools, like the lathe and wood saw, in their woodshop. The Round Stone Barn is perhaps the most impressive structure in the village—it was designed to ventilate the hay to prevent mold growth and spontaneous combustion of the hay, and to allow the farm animals to efficiently be fed and the space to be efficiently cleaned. These hygienic conditions and the design of floor layout minimized the chance of milk becoming contaminated.
I see many similarities between the Shaker’s and Lenovo’s design ethos, which emphasizes purposeful simplicity. Take a look at the Lenovo ThinkStation: While many companies would streamline the appearance, Lenovo continues to include a robust carrying handle in the design and USB ports that are easily reached from a seated position for the sake of ergonomics.
The ThinkPad embodies Lenovo’s commitment to practicality. The ThinkPad T420, perhaps my favorite of the ThinkPads, clashed with contemporary designs that were shifting to minimalism at the cost of function. The T420 has latches to prevent the computer from accidentally opening, a seven-row keyboard with the most-used keys enlarged (look at the escape and delete keys) a clamshell design, plentiful indicator lights, a matte screen (great for sun glare problems) in an era when glossy was dominating, and physical keys above and below the trackpad. Let’s of course not forget the signature red TrackPoint, often derided by the ignorant, yet still admired as one of the most efficient navigation tools by "those who do."
Unfortunately, many of Lenovo’s most important and impressive design features are naked or overlooked. Modern ThinkPads, for instance, are designed with an internal roll-cage to increase strength and stability; keyboards are manufactured with drainage holes to make them spill resistant; and the laptops are clad in a soft, rubbery finish to decrease the likelihood of accidental slips.
And if you think that a unibody metal laptop is stronger than the composite plastic and composite materials that ThinkPads are made of, here is the result of a premium work computer that fell off a lab bench and landed on the lab floor, a distance of about three feet, or 0.91m for you metric folk (My T400 has survived unscathed by similar falls…and had there been any damage, Lenovo designs many of their laptops in such a way that they are user-serviceable; saving the user time and potentially the hundreds of dollars in repairs to have the computer professionally serviced).
Lenovo continues to innovate with their designs, from the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga to the integrated function keys in the X1 Carbon. Some changes are exciting and helpful; others make me a little wary. But it’s always a good feeling knowing that Lenovo has the user, and not the latest fashion trend, in mind.
About Gregory Costa
Gregory Costa is a decent biologist, mediocre writer, terrible formatter, but true Lenovo enthusiast, who admires the use of their products in both the academic and industrial setting...when he's not busy delighting himself in science, nature, or his OkCupid profile.