NOT ALLOWED – Rectangles with round corners in design narrative

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All books, bricks and monitors watch out – you may have the wrong shaped corners!

I was rather dismayed this week to hear about the recent court ruling that Samsung should pay damages for infringing Apple’s intellectual property in their smart phone designs.

I think what gets me the most is that Apple is playing the holier-than-thou ‘we’re vulnerable artists’ card. From my point of view, it seems that Apple is exploiting the US legal system to maximize its profits, rather than engaging in healthy competition and innovation. While it’s not as if there aren’t tons of products out there that are influenced by Apple designs, Samsung has presented the first real challenge to their stronghold on the lucrative smart phone market. People have started saying that the Galaxy range is better, and so apparently it’s time to start throwing some corporate toys out of the pram!

It is “unfortunate that patent law can be manipulated to give one company a monopoly over rectangles with rounded corners” said Samsung in a statement, and I quite agree.

Apple has widely circulated this image to illustrate the iphone’s influence on Samsung’s designs, but I think this is a far too simplistic a view of the mobile phone product design narrative. These examples are only a handful out of a whole spectrum of technology around at the moment that demonstrate Apple’s influence, in what is a continuous and complicated creative process.

The fact is that designers have influences and their creations follow current visual narratives. If they weren’t inspired to some extent by what they had already seen, then there would be nothing to push against in order for their design work to innovate. So of course other phones, tablets etc. are going to be influenced by the iphone, ipad and all that jazz, simply because they are contemporary and quite good. I think this is a perfectly normal thing to happen.

On a more functional level, in order to market this kind of thing, the expectations of consumers have to drive things. Simplicity and large screens are all the rage a the moment (i.e. the rectangle), and there are only so many ways to make this distinctive. Smart phone and tablet design – as cleverly pointed out in this video  from the BBC (scroll down) – is now becoming less about how they look, and more about how they behave on said big screen.

I’m not saying that Samsung is squeaky clean. There are one or two features, like the ‘rubber band effect’ for example, that are obviously someone’s specific and clever idea. But as far as patenting a ‘look’ or a shape – to me that seems totally ridiculous. It’s like patenting the idea of a business card, or of paintings having four corners! It’s like saying that it’s illegal to be influenced stylistically.

But since it seems to be quite lucrative to own shapes (because, of course, making money is the best reason for doing anything), I have decided that I own the one ones in this drawing above. You are NOT ALLOWED to use them OK! I mean it, even if they are part of a logical design progression.

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