iDesign: The Art of Designing Great iPod and iPhone Cases
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A Few Words on Protection Versus, or Alongside, Decoration
Designers of iPod and iPhone cases and films have historically been comprised of three camps: those who are focused on protecting Apple’s devices, those who focus on decorating Apple’s devices, and those who design cases to do both. There have been noteworthy, extreme examples of all three of these approaches, which are worth briefly mentioning up front.
The first iPod cases—ones released by Apple and early case developers—were clearly focused far more on protection than decoration. Companies such as Matias made their names in the iPod business selling tank tread-proof metal iPod coffins that weren’t convenient for iPod control access, but enabled the devices inside to withstand virtually anything. Other companies, including Apple, came up with extremely simple leather and fabric sleeves that did nothing more than cover most of the device’s scratchable surfaces.
Over time, a few developers went in a completely different direction, coming up with “cases” that offered little to no protection, and were instead designed to get attention for either their owners or developers. One company released iPod thongs. Another released stupid iPod costumes. We opted not to cover most of these releases when it became obvious that their developers were trying to make a fast buck off of the rapidly growing iPod market, and thankfully, they mostly disappeared by the time of the iPhone’s release. Occasionally, similarly decorative-only cases still emerge, but they’re generally ignored; artistic stickers, and more sophisticated cases, are clearly more popular.
“More sophisticated cases” are those that effectively combine both protection and good looks in a single, affordable package. Some companies strive for clean, neutral looks that match Apple’s designs; Incase and Power Support are notable examples. Other companies, such as Belkin, iSkin, and Speck, generally go for bolder looking designs, and still others, such as Contour Design, Griffin Technology, Incipio, Marware, and SwitchEasy, offer a mix of cases that vary from neutral to bold.
While these cases vary widely in looks—each company has its own sense of what it likes, and what it thinks will appeal visually to customers—they generally have a lot in common when it comes to protection. Why? After experiments with decorative, semi-protective designs, most companies have found that customers aren’t buying cases to turn their iPods or iPhones into dolls; they want products that will keep their trusted media players and phones safe from certain common types of harm. Apart from making the cases look nice, then, the questions faced by most designers are simple: how much of the iPod or iPhone should be protected, and then, how?
The next several sections of this article answer those questions thusly: as much as possible, except for very small and specific exceptions, and—no surprise—with a combination of smart materials and precise tailoring.
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- Apple Case Design in 2013, Part 3: On Changes, Innovation, and the Future
- Apple Case Design in 2013, Part 2: On Apple Design Specifics
- Apple Case Design in 2013, Part 1: On Protection + Priorities
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