Product design paradigm shifts
April 11, 2010 8:47 PM   Subscribe

Sometimes a new product comes about that has such a unique and superior design, that it completes changes the way we think about that given product. I am looking for examples of new products that have brought about a significant change in the paradigm of what we though the product could be, and would later become the new standard of how that product would be designed. I'd prefer some examples that only occurred in the past 100 years or so.

To give you an idea about what I'm looking for, one example I came up with is the Aeron Chair. It was designed from scratch to be as comfortable as possible, ignoring all of the pre-conceived notions of how an office chair should look like. The design has now become ubiquitous and often copied.

Another example would be the controller for the original Nintendo. Before the NES, all home game consoles used joysticks. The NES gamepad redefined what video game controllers would become.
posted by upplepop to Society & Culture (52 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
well...a certain mobile phone....
posted by spacefire at 8:55 PM on April 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

mp3 players/ipods, the technology of digtal music in general.

By-mail DVD Rental/Netflix
posted by royalsong at 8:57 PM on April 11, 2010

I think the iPod really concretized a lot of the ideas about what the next 'thing' in portable music players was. Yes, there were MP3 players before the iPod, but none of them hit the nail on the head the way the iPod did. It wasn't an idea about the future, it was the future.

There must be a make of cell phone that presaged the current efforts?

The Gameboy comes to mind, too. Portable gaming that wasn't a crappy Tiger handheld.
posted by GilloD at 9:01 PM on April 11, 2010

The Model T Ford. Changed vehicles from expensive hobby for the rich to a true "horseless carraige".
posted by smoke at 9:07 PM on April 11, 2010

The ballpoint pen
Sliced bread
The laparoscope
The ram-air parachute
Soft contact lenses
Dérailleur gears
Light beer
Co-axial cable
Dandruff shampoo
The music of Hank Williams
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:08 PM on April 11, 2010

Or even a carriage. God help me.
posted by smoke at 9:11 PM on April 11, 2010

Modern toilet paper.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:11 PM on April 11, 2010

Peeled Garlic!!! Do you have any idea how much more often I cook Chicken (or pork) with Forty Cloves of Garlic now than I did before it was available pre-peeled?

In technology, I think digital cameras meet your criteria better than most things, they changed an existing product, rather than being something completely new. (Ruined the hobby of photography for some. Few people are impressed by darkroom skills anymore.)
posted by Some1 at 9:15 PM on April 11, 2010

It sounds like you're looking for disruptive technologies... the linked wikipedia article lists many.
posted by mnemonic at 9:17 PM on April 11, 2010

DVDs are important, but VHS/Beta was the really radical shift. Before VHS, you had to to go out to the movies to see things... and if they weren't playing, you were out of luck. The home video market completely changed the entertainment industry.

QWERTY keyboards are a pretty strange example. But, I can't imagine typing on a ABCDEF keyboard.
posted by paperzach at 9:18 PM on April 11, 2010

Despite its numerous detractors on Metafilter, the Apple iPhone has resulted in at least three vendors coming up with imitation devices in the last year: Google and Blackberry released (and one day, in the case of Microsoft) release touchscreen mobile phones in response to pressure from the market success of the iPhone.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:21 PM on April 11, 2010

In a horrible way, McDonalds really pioneered fast food - so they fit your question not in how they affected food, but how they affected the way food was prepared . They did to food what Henry Ford did to the car. Or so I learned from "Food Inc."
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:25 PM on April 11, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies so far.

However, lots of these are just technology improvements. I'm looking more for a focus in new products that were revolutionary in terms of design, not so much technology.

Ideally, these would be specific influential name-brand products instead of a broad product category.
posted by upplepop at 9:25 PM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by angiep at 9:26 PM on April 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

The development of the Toshiba T1000 was a watershed moment for laptops. It was the first design that truly "got" what a laptop was supposed to be, sacrificing performance for portability.

At 6.4 pounds its weight is competitive even by today's standards, while other laptops of the era were as heavy as bricks.
posted by hiteleven at 9:29 PM on April 11, 2010

StarTAC, baby, StarTAC.

I remember when a guy who worked in my office got one. It was as much a conversation piece as a brand-new iPhone was some 10 years later.

Wikipedia says, "The sleek Motorola StarTac mobile phone was introduced at the price of $1,000" -- and you thought an iPad was expensive?
posted by Rock Steady at 9:31 PM on April 11, 2010

Liquid bath/body soap.

Remember when it was all bar soap? Now it it comes in bottles and nylon scrubbie puffs are ubiquitous. My husband still buys bar soap, but everyone else I know buys a liquid.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:35 PM on April 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

In the brand name dept: I think it was Olay that sent me a sample and a scrubbie attced to my morning newspaper. (I thought it was ridiculous, but once I tried I was sold. I am so easy.)
posted by SLC Mom at 9:38 PM on April 11, 2010

Response by poster: Was there a car that was the first to transition from the old, boxy styling to the sleek curves that most cars have today?

Or maybe a piece of furniture that was the forerunner to mid-century modern design?

Perhaps a kitchen appliance that had such a distinct and useful design element, that it became standard in most other appliances to come?
posted by upplepop at 9:38 PM on April 11, 2010

The Real World on MTV.

Reality T.V. counts as a product in my book.
posted by inconsequentialist at 9:38 PM on April 11, 2010

Cordless phones.
posted by corey flood at 9:43 PM on April 11, 2010

posted by KathrynT at 9:44 PM on April 11, 2010

Best answer: To be fair, smoke, there wasn't a great deal new in the design of the Model T as a product, it was the economics of mass-producing and line-assembling it that was genuinely new.

As for motor vehicles which have changed their class through actual design I submit the Piaggio Vespa.

D'Ascanio the designer, who had an aviation background and hated the greasy, knees-on-either-side style of standard motorcycle, wanted something futuristic and something that women riders could ride with long skirts. Piaggio wanted a product that could be built cheaply, sold cheaply, with the equipment left over from Allied bombing and permitted under the manufacture rules allowed by the Occupation forces.

They drew a chassis-structure from scratch, gave it a twist handlebar gearshift instead of a separate lever or footpeg, put the engine and drive train on the back wheel assembly itself rather than on the frame, and gave it a big cowling on the front.
This prototype, the MP6, was still without a name when in September 1945 was presented to Enrico Piaggio, who, exclaimed: “It looks like a wasp!”.
Almost all modern scooters owe their design to that model.

(I would also accept the Honda 50 although the frame and engine were more like a standard motorbike).
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:47 PM on April 11, 2010

Best answer: The Xerox Star:
It was the first commercial system to incorporate various technologies that today have become commonplace in personal computers, including a bitmapped display, a window-based graphical user interface, icons, folders, mouse, Ethernet networking, file servers, print servers and e-mail.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:48 PM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Gillette twin-blade safety razor
Scott disposable paper towels
Pantyhose (late 1950s)
Louis Reard's bikini (1946)
Kinemacolor (1908)
John Hersey's "Hiroshima" heavily influenced the style of modern creative non-fiction writing (1946)
posted by sallybrown at 9:52 PM on April 11, 2010

I would argue that the DC-3 fits your criteria.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:53 PM on April 11, 2010

Best answer: Thonet No. 14 Chair (1859), the prototype for mass-produced furniture
The first mechanical typewriter, Remington No. 1 (1876)
The Monadnock Building (1889-1893)--the birth of the steel-frame skyscaper
Bic Crystal Pen (1949)
Sony Walkman (1979)
Apple Macintosh 128K (1984), the first commercially successful personal computer with a graphical user interface
posted by hydrophonic at 9:53 PM on April 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

posted by inconsequentialist at 9:53 PM on April 11, 2010

Kodak Brownie (1900) - the snapshot. ""You push the button, we do the rest."
posted by hydrophonic at 9:56 PM on April 11, 2010

Best answer: The Remington Standard No. 2. The Fender Stratocaster. The Dyson DC01 (and before that, the Hoover Junior.) The Bendix automatic washing machine (1937, and coming soon to the USA). The Sony TPS-L2 (though if you want design, you'll be looking at the WM-F5).

I think it's a mistake, though, to separate industrial design from engineering/technology, particularly if you're focusing on an era of mass production where design decisions were often bound up with technological ones, whether through addition or substraction.
posted by holgate at 9:56 PM on April 11, 2010

I'd put several of Sony's early portable electronics on the list.

The IBM Selectric typewriters.
Screwtop drink bottles.
The quartz watch.
posted by fuse theorem at 10:03 PM on April 11, 2010

Seems to me you're looking for "killer apps" that go beyond computing.

If that's the case, I think Starbucks changed the way we buy premade coffee. I think of Cuisinart food processors, Kitchenaid stand mixers (how can you tell I was just in the kitchen cleaning up). I don't know anything about the history of the automobile, but Hummers were a category-defining vehicle, as were the VW Bug, the VW van, and the Dodge Caravan for that matter. Speedo redefined swimwear. Bic pens were innovative for their time. I thought of Dyson vacuum cleaners and Stratocasters but holgate beat me to them. It's long past 100 years, but Stradivarius redesigned the violin.

If we look at actual computer apps, while I'm old enough to have used VisiCalc, I think Lotus 1-2-3 was the killer app there. WordPerfect, ditto. For a while, these products defined the standard and were the ne plus ultra in their leagues.
posted by angiep at 10:04 PM on April 11, 2010

Was there a car that was the first to transition from the old, boxy styling to the sleek curves that most cars have today?

The Ford Taurus was this, for the mass market, yes.

More significant was the first car to have the controls laid out like in a modern car - with a steering wheel, pedals for gas, brakes, and clutch in the right order, gear shift and hand brake in the middle, and a key to start it. I believe it was a 1916 Cadillac Type 53. Top Gear did an episode about it. Really, watch the video - it's only 9 minutes, and it's great.
posted by The World Famous at 10:07 PM on April 11, 2010

GPS (reason #1): The satellite system helps guide things that used to need ground-based or inertial navigation systems. There is currently a fundamental shift in the navigation systems of all types of vehicles (land, sea and especially air) that will be felt for many years to come. Which leads me to...

GPS (reason #2): More specifically, for consumers driving their cars. Once you've got a GPS receiver in your car, you no longer need to think about where you need to go beforehand. You just plug in the address and go. No more maps, no more printing directions from Mapquest. For me, driving is so much more liberating when you know you can't get lost, especially in a new city or when driving long distances.

Also, the DVR/PVR. This changes the way TV is watched. Instead of waiting for a commercial to take a leak, get food, talk, etc. you can now just pause the TV and do what you need to do. This is so liberating that you need to have one to realize how much of a game-changer it is. Now that I've got one, I realize that watching live TV is for chumps.
posted by Simon Barclay at 10:14 PM on April 11, 2010

Piggly Wiggly (1916), the first self-service grocery store, which made packaging and brand identity important.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:15 PM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Before the NES, all home game consoles used joysticks.

Intellivision had 'em beat by six years.

While we're at it, the Atari VCS (1977).
posted by hydrophonic at 10:24 PM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

The PCC streetcar.
posted by parudox at 10:37 PM on April 11, 2010

"First appearing commercially around 1904, tea bags were successfully marketed by tea and coffee shop merchant Thomas Sullivan from New York, who shipped his tea bags around the world. The loose tea was intended to be removed from the bags by customers, but they found it easier to prepare tea with the tea enclosed in the bags."

Also: milk cartons.
posted by iviken at 10:37 PM on April 11, 2010

Does disruptive design count? Look to the industrial designs of Raymond Loewy. Not only did his work completely transform the way that products (from the smallest cup to the largest locomotive) are designed, but in doing so he completely inverted the form/function relationship between products and their consumers.
posted by davejay at 10:39 PM on April 11, 2010

Was there a car that was the first to transition from the old, boxy styling to the sleek curves that most cars have today?

Raymond Loewy. His streamlined designs were adopted for cars as well, so if you consider "old, boxy" to be cars with upright windshields and stuck-out fenders, then look to his work for Studebaker (there were aerodynamic cars before, but never in such a straightforward, consumer-accepted way, and that led the adoption by other manufacturers.)
posted by davejay at 10:41 PM on April 11, 2010

look to the 1947 Studebakers to see the first hints of that change.
posted by davejay at 10:45 PM on April 11, 2010

Tetra Brik (1959)
Tampax (1929)
Fiskars O Series scissors (1960)
Moore Push-Pin Company pushpins (1900)
posted by hydrophonic at 10:53 PM on April 11, 2010

There is a lot of this in sports gear: sidecut skis are a design innovation that springs to mind because it completely revolutionized and (many say) revitalized the sport. Dome tents, internal frame packs, some of the more recent climbing fixed gear etc.
posted by fshgrl at 10:59 PM on April 11, 2010

I'm going to nominate the original 3Dfx Voodoo 3D graphics card.

This seems like a ridiculous thing -- but you have to understand, in the mid 90's, the time when this particular 3D card came out, there was nothing with significant performance in the marketplace. In fact, people were joking about "FreeD" -- 3D as a zero-price addon to 2D graphics.

The Voodoo happened, and not only that, it was effectively unmatched (except by its sequel, the Voodoo 2) for at least 3 years.

The Voodoo was no small thing: It pretty much signified the start of the 3D gaming era as a real thing. It created absolute monoliths out of nVidia and ATI, the former rivaling Intel and the latter absorbed into AMD. Arguably, it created such good graphics at home that expectations of movies went through the roof.
posted by effugas at 11:35 PM on April 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Compaq's PCs. The reason the PC is a standard, ubiquitous platform today is because Compaq took the lead on cloning it legally. Popular, affordable desktop and portable computers are Compaq's legacy.

Once upon a time, there were no clothes with zips, and, for better or worse, no disposable nappies.
posted by rodgerd at 2:56 AM on April 12, 2010

The swiffer revolutionized house-cleaning for everyone I know.
posted by vytae at 6:04 AM on April 12, 2010

Coco Chanel's little black dress and her clothing designs that relieved women from restrictive corsets.
posted by hoppytoad at 7:16 AM on April 12, 2010

The Grid Compass was the first laptop that looked like something we'd recognize as a laptop today. It came out at a time when most "portable" computers had CRT displays and looked like Samsonite luggage.
posted by adamrice at 7:27 AM on April 12, 2010

Dyson products may be what you're looking for. Also, the clockwork radio/

Similar to hoppytoad's comment, probably the Wonderbra. The bra has existed for a while but this made a big difference in styles and fashions since.

Possibly alsop 35mm film. One cartridge, minimal effort compared to medium format, and even APS didn't displace it until the format began to die out altogether.

The Real World on MTV.

Reality T.V. counts as a product in my book.

The Family predated this by two decades.
posted by mippy at 8:36 AM on April 12, 2010

The computer mouse
velcro closures on kids' shoes
teva sandals
Many products that become known by the pioneering brand, i.e. Xerox for photocopying
The ipod and iphone. ipods really reinvented portable music players, and iphones seem to be doing the same. I'm not a Mac fanchick, but both devices really impress me.
posted by theora55 at 10:17 AM on April 12, 2010

Chrysler Airflow: "the first full-size American production car to use streamlining as a basis for building a sleeker automobile, one less susceptible to air resistance”

Leica 1: the first practical 35mm camera
posted by Garak at 8:04 PM on April 12, 2010

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