How HP designed its new angled touchscreen desktops (video)

Hewlett-Packard hasn’t always been known for outstanding product design. But every once in a while, HP knocks one out of the park. The new HP TouchSmart touchscreen computers for consumers and businesses is one such product.

The new touchscreen computer can be reclined at a 60 degree angle so that you can adjust it to the exact position that fits you. You can use the angled computer while sitting in a chair or standing up. The machine has the kind of innovations that will change the way you interact with computers.

You can’t get this kind of design by slapping pre-made components together. You can only do it with hundreds of hours of work. The fact that HP has done it, and not someone like Apple, shows that the company has made huge investments in industrial design.

It gives you more options than just staring point-blank at a vertical desktop all day long. The touchscreen means you can get hands-on with a computer and not have to use a keyboard or mouse. As noted in our other story, it reminds me of the control consoles in the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek.

Randall Martin, chief design strategist for desktop PCs at the Personal Systems Group of HP, said in an interview that this kind of touchscreen is more collaborative. People are free to hang around and participate in the design of something on the desktop, using their own hands freely, even though someone else might be directly in front of the PC.

HP went through a bunch of studies about how people use computers. It came up with the pictures at right that show how people behave when they’re collaborating in front of a computer. The touchscreen is the key to getting people away from the notion that there is only one mouse and only one keyboard for one person to use.

Martin said the company doesn’t just commission a design from computer manufacturers in Asia. Rather, the company’s designers create hundreds of sketches and then build prototypes and test them with users. HP’s ethnographers, or people who study human behavior, will visit the homes of people using products and see how they’re using them. Martin said the company found that touchscreen hinges had to be extremely strong because they can bend when someone puts their fingers on the display.

“We go in and ask customers what appeals to them in a design,” Martin said. “We then track how they use the product with a series of sensors.”

The sliding mechanism in the display came from all of that research. You can swivel it sideways to show people what you’re working on. And you can sit in a more ergonomically comfortable position, Martin said.

It’s enough to make Apple, HP’s cross-town rival, jealous for once. Check out the video demo by Martin below.

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