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The 5 most influential product designs in electronics + communications since 1994

By QZ
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The mission for a designer in any age is to find ways to create with the technology of the day. Over the past two decades this has led to close observation of nanotechnology, the advancement of touch interactivity, and the gradual connectedness of objects. The innovations that came from the integration of those, and other, technologies are especially reflected in the objects we interface with everyday: our electronics and items found in the spaces we inhabit.

It’s been a collaborative and iterative process to reach the present, where striking design has become a necessary quality of the things we bring into our lives. In celebration of that process we’ve convened a panel in partnership with Lexus–designers of the first-ever NX luxury crossover–to honor product designs of the past two decades. In categories of electronics + communications and interior design, our panel of experts reflect back on the most influential product designs of the past two decades and look forward to the innovations that will have the biggest impact on the future–many of which were on the minds of exhibitors and attendees of CES.

Below we present our panel on electronics + communications; our interior design panel can be found here.

Margaret Gould Stewart, Director of Product Design, Facebook Inc.

The release of 802.11 IEEE wireless LAN standards in 1997 has transformed the relationship people have to…well, everything. To nearly all forms of telecommunications, to accessing all kinds of information on demand, to navigating our world, to sharing our lives in real time with those we care about. It’s hard to recall our former, tethered existence because we now see all of our future experiences through the lens of mobility. 

Doug van Spronsen, Managing Director, Versett

The iPhone undoubtedly has had the biggest impact. From mobile commerce in emerging countries to ride-sharing and language translation on demand, the iPhone changed how we relate to each other and to our world. Every major industry from finance to healthcare has felt the disruptive nature of mobile devices, and it is just beginning.

Nick Dazé, Lead Product Designer, Fullscreen Inc.

Firefox was an insanely influential product design for its day. When it introduced the tabbed browsing interface, it took the internet from being a place where you logged on to do one thing at a time and transitioned it into being a multitasking platform. It also broke Microsoft’s iron grip on the mainstream web.

Richard “Levi” Brooks, CEO + co-founder, Use All Five

In such a short time, TiVo completely altered the way we watch television, as well as changed our expectations and consumption of music, film, and other forms of media.

Cynthia Hellen, Founder + CEO, SMPLCT Lab

In the 90s we learned what it means to go green and put it into practice through products that were sustainable, eco friendly, and smart. The E Ink Corporation, founded in 1997, provided the display for the Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, and all other kinds of portable electronic devices.

Eran Eyal, CEO + Founder, Springleap

3d printing technology will allow us to start downloading designs for new products and produce many products at home or at local service providers. This tech will also allow for a new era of prototyping by companies that can: 1) service existing technology manufacturer products; 2) print products from existing technology manufacturers; 3) print upgrades for existing technology manufacturers; 4) create their own innovative technology products from home.

Nick Dazé

Virtual reality. When I was a kid, VR was a joke; I mean “We are VR Troopers…” right? But then I tried on the Oculus Rift for the first time, and I went slack-jawed. Even in its current form, gritty pixels and all, I felt completely immersed.

Frank Yoo, Director of Product Design, Lyft

As components get smaller and more efficient and computing power increases, consumer devices will start to blend into the things we know and use everyday. So, maybe the context of our natural movements, conversations, and subtle behavior patterns will replace keyboards and touch screens as inputs, allowing your experience in the physical world to be the star.

Doug van Spronsen

Augmented reality will dramatically change how we communicate. The ability to interact and explore virtual immersive environments is just the beginning; augmented reality’s greatest potential lies in its other applications–medical, commercial, and educational to name a few.

Joseph Albanese, Lead Product Designer, Yik Yak

Advancements in wearables and sensor technology will change the state of modern product design. The interface of the product will recede into the background, only becomes present when it needs to.

Margaret Gould Stewart

The obvious response to this question is things like 3D printing, nanotech, and augmented/virtual reality; these innovations will undeniably cause enormous upheavals in design, manufacturing, distribution, and consumption. But if we are to apply design and tech in ways that positively impact the lives of most humans, the innovative “technologies” that will positively transform product design in the future are diversity, empathy, and the humanities. We’ve been given great power through the technology we’ve developed, but that with that power comes enormous responsibility to lift up all of humanity. We must diversify our workforce and then challenge the best and brightest in our field to tackle the real issues facing the majority of humankind: things like access to clean water, eliminating poverty and human slavery, ensuring access to education, and healthcare for all.

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Lexus NX Turbo

The same innovative spirit can be found in the design of the first-ever Lexus NX Turbo, a luxury crossover that goes beyond utility by combining bold style with intuitive technology and turbocharged performance.

This article was produced on behalf of Lexus by the Quartz marketing team and not by the Quartz editorial staff.

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