Everybody loves Ludwig Rensch’s printer, part of his diploma thesis on Interacting with things. He calls it “ a machine that can print, scan and copy in a pleasant way. It communicates its function, provides clear feedback and uses physical controls to operate the key functions with ease.” Mark at Fast Company Design says “ for the first time in decades, I kinda want to buy a printer again.” Cory Doctorow says it “ makes me want to throw away the ugly, unreliable, overly complex multifunction printer on my desk.”
I found this fascinating. What is it about this printer that makes people love it so much? Perhaps it is the message of simplicity. Rensch writes:
The user interface was designed following the Pareto principle, which states that 80% of the time, we only use 20% of the features. To achieve this, Rensch defined a printer’s key functions, analyzed the required procedures and simplified these until the result was an easy to understand, pleasant and minimalistic product.
But when I look at it, I do see the attraction, but I also see all kinds of problems and compromises.
Let’s start with the roll. I used to have a fax machine that had a roll of paper, and so hated coming into the office and finding 30 feet of faxes across the floor. But like toilet paper and paper towel holders and everything else that ever had a roll on it, the paper was horizontal, because it is much easier to pull it evenly.
It also limits you to one kind of paper. What about letterhead? What about all the other types of paper or label that people put into their printers?
Then there is the platen for the scanner/copier, which is flat. This requires a lot of mechanical stuff, including an arm that slides up and down to scan the whole page. Most small scanners move the paper past the scanning device much the same way as the paper off the roll moves past the printing heads; it is smaller, simpler and easier that way. The people who use flatbed scanners do so because they have books or thicker documents, which this machine won’t work with because the platen is vertical instead of horizontal, which makes no logical sense. And in fact, the shape of the platen is driving the design of the entire printer, it is what makes it a rectangle instead of say, two cylinders.
What we have in the end here is a very inconvenient scanner and copier, where you cannot place the thing being copied or scanned on the platen where you want it but have to put it on the door and close it. It is also an inconvenient printer that takes paper off a roll and then through the printer, which fuses toner onto paper with heat, and yet it somehow sheets come out crisp and flat.
It is pretty to look at and and agree with Cory at BoingBoing, the color is nice. The controls are simple and logical, which is wonderful. But is it, as Ludwig describes it, a printer you actually want? I am not so sure.
What it is, is cute. People like it because it looks friendly and simple to use and has that Apple hello in its out tray. But it is like those tiny houses with gabled roofs which make lousy headbanger lofts and worse aerodynamics; they are not designed to be efficient but to create an emotional bond. But it doesn’t make it good design.