Pimp my Dell

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HIP TO BE SQUARE? Dell's new XPS M2010 notebook features the company's 'Laminar' look and feel. Cool.

When you think about stylish, well-designed computer hardware, Apple Computer Inc. might come to mind. But one company whose products don't reap lavish praise for their good looks is Dell Inc. of Round Rock, Texas. And this seems to trouble Dell product group general manager John Medica no end.

'Quite often, folks aren't aware of the level of effort we are applying to ... the appearance and the identity of our products,' he said, sounding a tad like Rodney 'No Respect' Dangerfield.

In fact, the company has 50 individuals devoted to the look and feel of Dell's products, he said. And recently, the company started to 're-energize' its physical designs, thanks to changes in motherboard design wrought by the new thermal demands of multicore processors, as well as by recent European environmental laws. There's a unified design aesthetic behind each of Dell's products, Medica said. Just as you can recognize a BMW car no matter what year or make, so too you should be able to recognize a Dell.

'A design language is a purposeful combination of the forms, finishes and design details. You create a language that supports the brand and identity you are trying to portray to an end user,' Medica said.

Dell has four design languages. In the data center, the company's PowerEdge servers and PowerConnect network gear sport the Aviator look, an understated flat-black and brushed-metal design meant to convey durability and reliability. In the front office, you will see laser printers, Latitude notebooks and OptiPlex desktop computers sporting the Laminar design. Glossy black-and-silver trim dominate'stylish but not too stylish. Consumers and small-business customers get the Wrap design, in which the ink-jet printers and PCs come with a home appliance feel, lighter colors and as few buttons as possible. The models must convey not only reliability but also 'freshness,' Medica said. And finally, home entertainment units (widescreen televisions and media PCs) get the Stratosphere design, a futuristic look with thin form factors and gentle curves.

'There is a rhyme and reason here. All of our products look like they come from the same place. This is not an orphanage,' Medica said.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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