I remember my family's first Logitech product well. It was a mouse, roughly the size of a small football and shaped like a half eaten apple and the colour of dirty bones. It rolled and it clicked and did everything it was supposed to. It was not an artefact of fine design.
Fast forward about two decades, and you'll find that things have changed. While Logitech has long been home to dependable, affordable peripherals, it's starting to produce a whole new category of products: beautiful objects. With a new CEO who used to work alongside Dieter Rams at Braun, the company is betting hard on emphasising good design and upholding the general philosophy that things work better when they're designed better. And now with a newly hired design director and an unexpectedly profitable quarter, Logitech is going all in with the new design-centric approach, and this season's lineup of products shows that off well.
A New Process
When Logitech brought Bracken Darrell in to run the company, they knew what they were doing. Darrell is something of a design fanatic who says he cut his teeth at Braun and used to meet with Dieter Rams. Aside from Darrell's admiration, though, the Apple connection stops there. When he took over as CEO in January of this year, Darrell set out to flatten the organisational structure since he says design decisions "were a little too broad." So Darrell dismissed the head of product and started sitting in on design meetings himself.
"I'm no Steve Jobs. I'm not an expert on design like he was," Darrell said in an interview. "My direct involvement is less about being a design wizard than it is about challenging the design as it's being hatched, challenging the assumptions, challenging the aesthetics, challenging the harmony the whole thing."
About the clunky days of the Nineties, Darrell is quick to point out that Logitech didn't necessarily decide to focus on design. The focus was there 20 years ago, but design meant something different back then. Apple really did change everything around the time they introduced the multicoloured iMacs, because they showed the industry just how much consumers would respond to serious design. "If we've changed anything since then," Darrell said, "we've been more explicit about having great design. We've been very focused on elevating our design."
Now, Logitech works with three or four different design firms on the whole process, and Darrell checks in along the way rather than grant his approval at the end of the process. It's not a perfect process, either. "Not every one of our products has a great design," he said. "Not yet."
A New Class of Products
Logitech's design-centric philosophy is summed up well in the UE Boom, a portable Bluetooth speaker that's shaped like a Red Bull can. Released just two months ago, the Boom joins a crowded category of devices led most famously by Jawbone's Jambox. The Boom is, in fact, a lot like the Jambox. It connects to your smartphone or laptop wirelessly using Bluetooth and plays music with surprising volume and clarity. It can also be used like a speakerphone.Unlike the Jambox, however, it actually works -- the Jambox is famously unreliable -- and it works well. Functionality aside, the Boom is just a pleasure to look and and even hold. It's wrapped in a satisfyingly sturdy, waterproof mesh, and volume control's on the side offering trigger-finger access.
This touch-friendly approach carries over to other new products, like the Z600 desktop Bluetooth speakers. These white mini-towers look like they were designed almost exclusively to appear amidst a mixture of Apple products, and the effect is not unlike the look of the UE Boom. These speakers get loud, though, with a delightfully streamlined volume control on the top of the right speaker. Just spin your finger around the top, and the volume goes up or down. There are no moving parts, and the sound is solid.
Rounding out this summer's lineup of design-first products is the FabricSkin Folio iPad keyboard. This device doubles as an iPad case with a soft-to-the-touch finish and sturdy shell for the tablet. When it's assembled, the device has the look and feel of a nice book, except that it folds out into a combination stand and keyboard with full-size keys that click just like your laptop keyboard. What's really impressive about the design is how everything magically snaps into place thanks to a couple sets of invisible magnets.
But as Darrell himself admitted, not all of Logitech's products look great. For every amazingly designed item, there seem to be about 10 in the company's lineup that could use a serious facelift. Take the Z623 speakers. This high performance system retails for about the same as the Z600, but instead of looking like it should be featured in an Apple ad, it looks like it should be kicking around the back of your older brother Kenny's Camaro workshop. And not in a good way.
Inevitably, this season's lineup of new products is just the first in what will be a new era for Logitech. But it's important to keep in mind that good design is not a panacea. Just because something looks great, doesn't mean that it works great (and vice versa). For Logitech's transition to being a more design-centric company to work, they'll also need to double down on functionality and make sure they're offering consumers more than a pretty package.