20 May On functional design.
When I purchased my new MacBook, I was disappointed to find that the charger that came with it had lost a key feature of the old design; the fold-out cable hooks. Sure, the new charger was now USB-C and had a removable cable that would let me charge more than just my laptop but I couldn’t help but feel like there was a missed opportunity in designing for how this device will be used.
Coming from my first apple laptop (a Mid-2010 15″ MacBook Pro) it definitely felt like a bit of a downgrade in terms of functionality. I had three main grievances:
- Firstly, the battery charge indicator LEDs were no where to be found; disappointing but not a deal breaker since I could still always see the battery percentage while using my laptop.
- Secondly, the upgrade to a removable USB-C charging cable meant the loss of the much loved MagSafe feature that MacBooks had become known for; devastating though not the end of the world since some very clever designers had created a work around that brought the feature back.
- Thirdly (and this time unforgivably), the move to USB-C had changed the design of the white charging brick and removed the fold-out cable hooks, this time without an elegant workaround. This left me with the constantly annoying task of fishing for and untangling my charging cable every time I used my laptop the way it was designed to be used – on the go.
It felt like Apple had move away from the functional utilitarian design decisions it had become known for. Since even before I knew I wanted to be a designer, I was drawn to Apple’s products for their thoughtful and considered designs that just seemed very focused on the people who used them. I remember being in awe of my sixth grade teacher’s blue clamshell iBook with its built in carry handle. It just felt like the perfect design. Of course it had a carry handle because how else are meant to carry it!? By putting it in a bag!? I didn’t think so. This level of utility was why I eventually forked out a few additional grand to buy my first MacBook when I started my design degree. It felt like an investment in something practical and timeless; now ten years later I can tell you that it was just that. That MacBook is still plugging along, this time helping my younger sister get through her degree. But ten years later, my new Apple laptop was missing the good design and utility that had been so successfully implemented more than a decade earlier.
This lead me to ask, what could I do about it? I could just learn to tie up the charging cable in the elegant knot my girlfriend does with all her cables; though this still wouldn’t solve the problem of constantly loosing the cable in my bag. I could also just brute force the hooks utility into existence by wrapping the cable round the charging brick itself – functional but something about doing this felt so wrong, almost barbaric. My final thought was to get someone else to fix the problem for me – a quick google search and scan of amazon lead me to an entire world of less than ideal solutions, it seemed like no one had been able to figure this out.
I got a lot more serious about my little project when the pandemic hit. Unemployed and with too much time on my hands, I got to work on finding an elegant solution to this little problem.