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Design firm dares to reinvent the printer

Design firm dares to reinvent the printer

Posting in Design

Can anyone improve the lowly computer printer? Seattle design firm Artefact rethinks the device by focusing on user experience, not features.

Can anyone improve the lowly computer printer?

In recent years, printer manufacturers have added various features, from memory card readers to wireless network connectivity, in an attempt to bring a technology firmly set in the 20th century into the 21st. But few have been able to re-imagine the peripheral for the age of tablets and touchscreens.

That lack of innovation or interest got the Seattle design firm Artefact thinking. The company, which worked on the user experience on Research in Motion's BlackBerry PlayBook, saw an opportunity to reconsider the printer because, well, no one else was.

"That's always a good reason to look at a category and reimagine what it could be," said Jonas Buck, a designer at Artefact.

Buck has come up with a printer concept that's unlike any out there. Dubbed SWYP for "See What You Print," the matte black device features a touch screen interface that seamlessly connects to cameras, computers, phones, and tablets. Once connected, the screen shows the various photos and documents on the device that can be printed and that users can tap to select.

Users can then select the image or document and crop and edit it with their fingers. And when the image or document appears the way a user wants, a simple swipe downward prints the page.

While Artefact has created the concept based on existing technology, it's not a working prototype. The firm has no intention of manufacturing the product. Rather, it wants to show its design chops, as well as prod the printer industry to rethink its approach to product innovation.

"There are so many companies stuck in this space throwing on more and more features," said Fernd van Engelen, Artefact's director of design, who worked with Buck on the SWYP.

The goal was to take a familiar device and overhaul the user experience to be "simple" and "delightful," said Rob Girling, co-founder and principal of Artefact.

"Our primary goal with SWYP was not to take a concept to market," Girling said, "Although we're finding out that daring to rethink even the most mundane products opens up business doors that could lead to commercializing ideas."

SWYP: See What You Print from Artefact on Vimeo.

This post originally appeared on CNET's Business Tech blog.

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Jay Greene

Contributing Writer

Jay Greene is the author of the book, Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons. He is also a senior writer at CNET, covering Microsoft, Google and Yahoo. Previously, he was BusinessWeek's Seattle bureau chief and a reporter for The Seattle Times. Disclosure