In a world where products with more features are generally considered better, we are now seeing a trend of reductionism, where removing a seemingly integral part of the product is the new novel.
No, I’m not talking about removing the headphone jack from the latest iPhone, but rather design innovations that obviate something we have been so used to associating with the product itself.
1. Mirrorless Camera
In 2004, Epson introduced the first mirrorless camera (R-D1) to the market. Following this, Sony cameras adopted the same technology and have been extremely popular till date. Traditional DSLRs have an angled mirror in the body to reflect the view into the viewfinder. On hitting the shutter button, this mirror rapidly flips up to allow for the light to hit the sensor behind it. Doing away with the mirror has helped drastically reduce size as well as keeping the camera quiet and increase longevity by having less moving parts. It also sounds cool to say that your camera is “mirrorless”.
2. Chainless Bike
Now take a look at this bicycle by CeramicSpeed. It completely does away with the chain drive we are used to seeing on every bicycle. It is engineered to have 21 ceramic bearings to transfer power generated from the pedals through mounted pinions on each end of the carbon fiber pipe. Not only does this look so clean and cool, but it also removed the hassle of getting the greasy chains in contact with your calf. Moreover, the reduced number of moving parts in the drivetrain provides for reduced friction and much more efficient transfer of power.
3. Bladeless Fan
What’s the most important component you think of in a fan? Probably the blades. It seems like a lot of products are getting their wow factor from taking the product’s perception and flipping it upside down by stripping it off it’s most essential component. These fans cost up to $280 for the same functionality that you can get out of a $40 fan. However try turning on a Dyson fan and sticking your hand through it. Yeah, that magic feeling is what you’re paying the extra $240 for. Of course, “bladeless” is a misnomer because the blades are hidden in the base but that is unimportant.
4. Meatless Burger
Saving the most topical for last, let’s consider the meatless burger trend which is rapidly being adopted by the US. Beyond Meat’s stock value is up to $150 from its initial IPO at $25 which is remarkable. Impossible Burger is also performing fantastically with large US chains providing their patties. I don’t think there is any better title than “meatless” for selling plant-based burgers. The title is honest, straightforward and at the same time does not immediately invoke a mental image or taste of “plants” as opposed to a name like “plant-based” or “vegan” burger.
As a design enthusiast, I would like to incorporate this notion of reduction of an essential member into my product design concepts. It could be a great exercise to create a product that is truly innovative or alternatively prove to be a valuable lesson that not all objects can be deisnged without their most essential component.
Around the time when Jony Ive announced his upcoming resignation from Apple, a news report revealed that one of many secretive projects he worked on was Apple Car. His concept of the autonomous vehicle lacked a steering wheel. I can only aspire to even conceptualize such brave and controversial design concepts.