You don’t realize the amount of work that goes into the design of a new computer. All the research, design, engineering thought process – there’s a lot happening. Then, when you see something completely different like the SpectreONE, you get to wonder, “How did they come up with the design?” Well, I decided to go to the source. Peter Lee is a Distinguished Technologist on the Industrial Design team. His role was the design team lead on the HP SpectreONE. So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look behind-the-scenes on what makes this desktop truly unique and how it got that way.
TheNextBench: Before we get into it, could you describe what a “Distinguished Technologist” means? (When I hear that I think of someone wearing a tweed jacket and leather elbow patches).
Peter Lee: Usually, HP gives title to individual contributors who have been successful in driving future design and technology roadmap for their business units and influencing company direction across multiple business units. I’m very fortunate to be able to achieve that position in my career in HP.
How long does it take to see a computer through from drawing board to final product creation?
Typically for consumer desktop PCs it takes about 16 to 18 months from ideation to final product creation.
How long did it take for the SpectreONE? Was it longer than usual?
The schedule for the SpectreONE was aggressive. The development, testing and verification process was a somewhat accelerated schedule so that we could deliver the product in time for the holidays.
What’s the most iterations of a PC that you’ve seen before getting to a final design on something?
I don’t know the specific number of iterations, but the HP TouchSmart 610 had a new ID that allowed the all-in-one PC to recline to 60 degrees from vertical. It took a little longer to develop because of the new recline mechanism, for which we received a Utility Patent. The overall product development can be a longer process when we include newly patented components.
What are some of your favorite design aspects of the SpectreONE?
I really like the overall way that it looks, the elegance and thinness of the display. I like the way we disguised the technology – made it hidden so the product can be seen more as a beautiful object and a piece of art.
How many people are involved in the design of a given computer? Where are those designers located?
That’s a tough question to answer. There are many design teams that work on a PC: industrial, mechanical, electrical, packaging, audio, software, etc. So it all depends on what we’re talking about, but from an industrial design aspect there were about 10 to 12 people on this task, located in Houston and Cupertino.
What is the zeitgeist in design these days -- what are you pulling from?
As you can see from some of the images we’ve provided, our inspiration comes from architectural elements, curved surfaces, simple geometry arcs and much more. We attend design shows and look closely at the latest trends to ensure that our PCs will blend beautifully into any home décor. The SpectreONE is a clear example of how we’ve gone beyond anything we’ve ever designed before.
What was the toughest part of the SpectreONE design that your team had to go back and forth on to get right?
For the SpectreONE, the form followed function and the function followed form. There was a lot of back and forth and cross-functional interaction between the ID and mechanical architecture teams. We went through many layouts to discover how to make the components fit in the “arm” of the PC due to the limited volume and space. In particular, bringing the audio quality to an acceptable level while still fitting into the constrained space was quite a challenge.
What is your favorite feature of the SpectreONE?
I really like the TouchZone (near field communication). NFC is a forward looking functionality and we included it in a very usable, yet elegant way. You just tap your device on the base of the PC to take advantage of this advanced communication technology.
How did you determine which colors and materials to use for the PC? We chose the colors to match the décor and environment of the setting. We envisioned it going into a home like a Manhattan loft and we wanted to make it pure and elegant. We also look at what people are doing to modernize and update their homes and brushed aluminum is very popular among consumers right now, so the color we used fits well with home décor.
Could you give an example of something that you were lobbying for in this computer?
The thing we lobbied the hardest for was to keep the product thin so we could achieve the iconic design. We had to challenge the other cross functional designers to rally behind the idea and put in the creativity to achieve the performance standards that we set for the PC while maintaining a very thin profile.
Why pursue the form factor you had with the SpectreONE?
All-in-One PCs are a growing market within the desktop PC category, and our goal was to achieve a forward looking and iconic, elegant design.
Why did you choose to use desktop components in this machine? And what sort of challenges did that present in engineering the design? Why not use notebook components?
When you design anything you have to decide on priorities and what’s important. For example, in this PC battery life wasn’t an issue or consideration like it is in notebooks. The SpectreONE is intended to be the hub of the home and we needed to strike the right balance between the cost and performance. The performance of desktop components can be more robust, so we decided on desktop processors and a notebook hard drive.
Many All-in-One PCs put the components behind the screen. Others have them in the base. Why did you opt to have the main components – like the CPU and graphics – in the arm?
In order to achieve the flat, thin display we didn’t want to put the components directly behind it because it would make the product too thick. If we put the main components in the base, its thickness would be visible from the front. It really comes down to how to make the necessary mass less visible, so that’s where everything landed…in the arm.
Then how do you deal with keep the hardware cool without fan noise in the arm? It is unlike most of the all-in-ones. Our air intake and exhaust vents are not visible by the customers. This helps to keep the overall design very clean and uncluttered. The intake vent holes are located underneath the base and the exhaust vent is located in the top of the arm, behind the LCD screen. This forced air cooling system is very efficient in conjunction with the natural convection, having the air travel from the bottom to the top as heat rises. Because of the efficient cooling scheme, we can cut down the unnecessary fan noise at the same time.
Could you explain why you went with the connectivity choices you did? Why USB 3.0 and NFC?
We wanted the PC to showcase the latest advanced technologies and enable the latest industry standards with the highest speed data transmission like the USB 3.0 connectivity. At the same time, we eliminated the legacy components that people are no longer using, including the optical disc drive. That’s right, in our research we have learned that more than 60% of the people who use PCs never use the optical drive, so we left it out.
Thanks, Peter! If you have any questions about the design of the SpectreONE, just ask away in the comments section.