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Microsoft Researcher Links Apple’s Industrial Design To History

The multi color strategy used by Apple is a throwback to Kodak’s innovative industrial design just before the Great Depression, says Principal Microsoft Researcher, Bill Buxton.


Kodak industrial designer Dorwin Teague made the Vanity Kodak camera popular in 1926 popular by selling it in 5 different colors – each in its own matching colored box.

In a letter published by BusinessWeek, Buxton says:

“Great design is as much about prospecting in the past as it is about inventing the future. This we can see in the following tale of two pocket-sized examples of personal technology – separated by 76 years.

In 1926, Kodak launched the third generation of their Vest Pocket camera line, the Series III. While the product line had been very successful, they wanted to expand its market appeal, in particular, to women. To help them with this, they turned to the designer, Walter Dorwin Teague, who had recently set up one of the first industrial design consultancies in the USA. The concept that he developed was to do a version of the camera that would be released in five distinct and different colours, packaged in a satin-lined box of matching colour. (All previous Vest Pocket Cameras had been solid black.) This version of the camera was released in April, 1928 under the name, the Vanity Kodak.

Leaping ahead to 2003, Apple Computer had just launched the third generation of their iPod MP3 music player. While the product line had been very successful, they wanted to expand its market. To do so, they turned to their head of industrial design, Jonathan Ive. The concept that he developed was to do a smaller version of the iPod, and release it in five distinct and different colours. (All previous iPods had been solid white.) This version of the iPod was released in January, 2004 under the name, the iPod Mini.

Did Apple steal the idea from Kodak? Not at all. Was Apple aware of the Vanity Kodak, and the what and the how of Teague’s contribution? Without a doubt: Jonathan Ive is an outstanding designer, and the Vanity Kodak is one of the classic examples in the history of industrial design. What Apple did was learn from history, and adopt, adapt, and assimilate past success to current context. That is simply good, intelligent design in action. It is also a very good lesson: an obsession with the new and original, without a deep literacy and appreciation for the past, leads to a path of missed opportunities.”

Comments [2]

2 Comments to “Microsoft Researcher Links Apple’s Industrial Design To History”

Mark holoubek @ December 10th, 2008 at 10:52 am
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Did Apple not do the same thing five years earlier when they brought several different coloured iMacs (recall the Rolling Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow”) to market in 1999? Of course, Jonathan Ive WAS behind that too…


CoreyH @ December 10th, 2008 at 10:57 am
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Yes Mark. That’s true. And there were many others. The point of the article was to simply shed light on some interesting info that many others didn’t know about.

I’ll admit, I didn’t know about that Kodak piece.