Ever since Jonathan Ive and the original
iMac design team at Apple Computer showed the world that computer
products did not have to be beige, bland and boring back in 1998,
technology has gotten a lot cooler looking. Some stuff is even cool
enough to be seen in public, especially when it comes to those little
widgets known as flash-memory USB hard drives. Around your neck, on your
arm, or even in your pocket, you can now pack half a gigabyte of your
favorite files in a tiny device resembling something out of the
shimmering world of “The Matrix” and not look like a total goober. Geek
Chic is in, baby.
Technology on the inside has helped with this part. Far from the chunky,
clunky traditional hard disk drives full of motors and cables, today’s
flash-memory drives are made from tiny solid-state memory chips with no
moving parts. They’re the same chips used on the inside of many portable
If you’ve got a file or files, say a bunch of InDesign layouts and a
folder of scans that are too big to e-mail and not worth burning to a CD
to transfer from one computer to another, a flash memory drive is a
great pocket-sized way to copy the files from Computer A to Computer B
without breaking a sweat. You just plug the drive into the computer’s
USB port, wait for it to show up on the desktop as an external drive,
copy your files onto it, unplug it and go.
The thing is, though, that these drives are getting so tiny, you worry
about losing them—especially since they can cost up to a few hundred
bucks. Somebody a few years ago noticed that the USB drives were smaller
than some souvenir key fobs, (you know, like the rubber ones you can
find up in the Poconos emblazoned with your name and a picture of an
enormous trout). So the keychain became an obvious choice for
double-duty with your data, and you could still keep it hidden in case
you thought your co-workers would make fun of you if you let your geek
But then the USB drives became even more stylized. In 2001, Sony put out
its first Micro Vault (Fig. 1) USB drive, which resembled a large
silver Tylenol with a colored stripe running down the middle. It looked
like sort of futuristic prop that CIA superspy Sydney Bristow might be
running around with on the latest episode of “Alias.” The design helped
get people’s attention to A.) Whatever it was, this was a cool-looking
thing and B.) Flash memory drives can be incredibly useful, especially
when you had to bring in that eight-megabyte PowerPoint presentation you
were slaving over all weekend and didn’t have a CD burner at home. The
latest version designed by Sony is now 35-percent smaller than the
original Micro Vault and even more graceful-looking to behold.
Sensing this potential, Iomega announced its Micro Mini USB Drive (Fig.
2) last year, which resembles a thick, oval-shaped dog tag and comes
with its own neck chain and snap-on covers in three fashionable colors
(black, blue and orange). You can now dangle 128 megabytes of computer
files around your neck in an object far lighter than a swingin’ gold
Memorex also jumped on the Wearable Technology bandwagon, offering a
product called the Thumb Drive (Fig. 3) that features a smiling young
woman wearing the drive around her wrist like an bulky bangle bracelet
on the packaging. Due to the size and nervousness of many teenage girls
about seeming too weird, this approach may not be as successful with the
young folk, (at least until Memorex comes out with a “Hello Kitty”
version), but time will tell. The drive’s wide-bodied design gives it an
air of practicality, more for those who are less about style but just
want to be able to find the dang thing in their purses before the sales
Given the American obsession with size extremes—we either really want
really, really big or incredibly small—USB drives seemed destined get
even tinier and more elegant as the technology on the inside improves.
This is great news because it means new opportunities for designers to
craft even more inventive shells to house the chips, as well as the
hopeful retirement of that old nerd standard: Is that a portable hard drive in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?
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Section: Inspiration -
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