7 Products that Changed the Visual Style of Their Industries

The world of technology is packed with examples of disruptive design. From Apple’s near endless rollout of slick products to the hundreds of design-is-function startups that have popped up online, it’s difficult not to witness the way that sleek design and careful usability have entered the business world.

It’s tempting to think that we’re in the middle of a design revolution, although we’re not quite sure that’s the case. Industrial design has resulted in new inventions, sleek products, and ultra-popular devices for hundreds of years, and it’s certainly not a discipline that’s limited to the 21st century.

We’ve tracked down seven products that define industrial design as a discipline. Some are rugged and built to last, while others remain somewhat delicate and immobile. What brings them together isn’t their function, purpose, or technological ability, but the way they present it. Each one of these design innovations gave technology a user-friendly and attractive canvas on which to operate, and each caused a major design revolution in their respective industries.

1. Tivoli Model One

Tivoli Model One

Henry Kloss has a long history in the consumer audio business. The engineer helped design some of the 20th century’s most important loudspeakers, pioneering bookshelf speakers and creating a string of slick, engineered, and distinctly minimalistic devices along the way. Before his death in 2002, the legendary designer engineered one final product: the Tivoli Model One radio.

The Model One is the home audio industry’s iPod – a piece of engineering so bare and minimalistic that it’s usable by almost anyone. While the most basic (and most popular) version includes just an AM/FM tuner and volume control, more advanced versions of the Model One are available, all of which offer a slightly different spin on the radio’s simplistic control layout.

2. Western Electric Model 302

Western Electric Model 302

Upon its release, Western Electric’s Model 302 telephone was a technological marvel. The telephone featured a built-in mechanical ringer and accurate turn-dial calling interface – two features that were considered innovations at the time. Released in 1937 and manufactured for over three decades, the Model 302 was the world’s first mass-market telephone and a huge success for AT&T.

Despite its ancient design and analog calling system, the Model 302 remains an attractive piece of technology. Amazingly, it’s also one that is just as supported today as it was upon its release; plug the Model 302 into a standard phone outlet and you’ll find it’s just as capable of making calls as any other telephone. The ultimate executive desk phone? We certainly think so.

3. IBM DiskOnKey

IBM DiskOnKey

The early days of flash storage certainly weren’t cheap. IBM’s DiskOnKey was the first mass-market flash storage drive, and boy was it an expensive piece of kit. Priced at $49.00USD and offering an at-the-time impressive figure of eight whole megabytes of storage, it’s a wonder this pocket storage wonder sold at all.

But look at the DiskOnKey’s rivals and you’ll see that it’s actually a fairly decent deal. The storage device was released in 1999, designed to compete with the then-standard floppy disc and ZIP drive. While the DiskOnKey certainly isn’t as elegant or sharp as our other favorites, its form makes it an important milestone in the industrial design timeline.

4. Nintendo NES

Nintendo NES

In many ways, the Nintendo Entertainment System (or NES, for short) was the world’s first modern gaming console. While Atari and other manufacturers had broken ground with their Pong systems and Pacman arcade games, it wasn’t until Nintendo put out their first major console that gaming became mainstream.

And it’s not hard to see why. Despite its chunky eighties appearance, the NES remains one of the most enduring designs in technology. It quite literally revolutionized gaming design, bringing new features into the fold – the removable control pad, directional control buttons, and licensed gaming cartridge are all NES innovations – and proving that gaming systems needn’t look like the work of an amateur radio enthusiast to be successful.

5. iPhone


Apple’s endlessly praised (and equally hated) smartphone has grown into one of the 21st century’s most important pieces of technology, making touchscreens a standard smartphone feature and all-but eliminating the tactile keyboard. With multi-touch controls and one of the mobile world’s first good web browsers, the iPhone was the ultimate in disruptive technology after its 2007 release.

If there’s one certain way to check for ‘revolutionary’ status, it’s through imitation. The iPhone has been endlessly copied throughout its run, its features and design now incorporated into almost every competing touchscreen device. While business users despise its virtual keyboard and techies decry its semi-ridiculous App Store policies, there’s no doubt that the iPhone is one of the mobile world’s most important design milestones.

6. Citroën DS

Citroën DS

The Citröen DS certainly didn’t fit in alongside other executive cars of the 1950s. The French high-end vehicle weighed little more than a ton, offered a laundry list of modern features, and actually looked, well, good. The passion project of famed Italian automotive designer Flaminio Bertoni, the DS was built with almost no regard for automotive standards or design principles.

But strangely enough, it worked. The DS is remembered as one of the 20th century’s best vehicles, claiming credit for inventions such as directional headlights (now a standard safety feature) and adjustable suspension. The car’s design was so timeless that it remained virtually unchanged during its twenty-year production run, with Citröen selling almost 1.5 million DSes in total.

7. Rolex Oyster Perpetual

Rolex Oyster Perpetual

How did the world’s most conservative watch company pioneer so many new features? While Rolex watches are best known as a creature comfort of the super rich, the Swiss luxury brand certainly has a few disruptive technologies up their sleeve. The Oyster Perpetual was the first line of watches to feature a built-in calendar system – a major innovation in the late 1940s.

But far from their technical advances, the Oyster Perpetual line remains an example of supreme form. While other watch manufacturers focused on adding superfluous features, Rolex built the Oyster line around simplicity and design. Clean, evenly spaced, and relatively minimal alongside other Swiss brands, there’s a reason these watches can command high five-figure prices.

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 19th, 2010 at 10:07 and is filed under Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Mathew Carpenter is an 18-year-old business owner and entrepreneur from Sydney, Australia. Mathew is currently working on AddToDesign, a website which provides value added design buzz, along with Design-Newz, the premier source for aggregated design news. Follow Mathew on Twitter: @matcarpenter.

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3 Responses »

  1. Citroen DS is my favourite. Really great car 🙂

  2. Great little post Mat, keep it up! 🙂

  3. Nice things, but the post is kinda’ little, some more things could be added there 🙂