Innovation Fuels Passion in Next-Gen PC Design Competition
June 16, 2008
Designers go beyond the beige box to dream up groundbreaking new PC designs that enable people to pursue their passions.

REDMOND, Wash. – June 16, 2008 – For industrial design student Avery Holleman, the inspiration for his award-winning entry in this year’s Microsoft-sponsored Next-Gen PC Design Competition struck late one evening as he chewed over prospective form factors for his design concept.

“When I started the Next-Gen PC Design project, I laid out every idea I had about current and future technology and how it could influence the design of the PC,” recounts Holleman, a senior studying industrial design at California State University, Long Beach. “From there I put together several conceptual models, including one that used wireless connections to separate the interface from the PC.”

“I had an idea about a system where the user would be able to interact with any number of interfaces connected to the same network.”

“I felt I had good ideas. But they needed a package.”

While contemplating a square he’d drawn out as the display for his device, the form it should take suddenly took shape before his eyes. “I realized it looked like a napkin.”

“That moment the idea came together,” he recalls. “What if all of the technology I had been thinking about was packed into a napkin or into many napkins, and they worked together like my original idea? That became the Napkin PC.”

In popular imagination, the humble napkin is, of course, much more than an absorbent piece of tissue for dabbing one’s mouth between the main courses of a restaurant meal. It’s an impromptu idea pad for sketching out business plans, design blueprints and other creative endeavors over strategic dinnertime conversations. Holleman knew he was onto something that would resonate widely with creative professionals.

“I loved the idea because everyone knows about napkin sketches, so I knew that it would be easy to immediately connect with the concept.”

One person it struck a chord with was Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who knows a thing or two about business plans. In addition to being awarded first place by the Next-Gen PC Design Competition’s distinguished panel of expert judges, drawn from the ranks of leading international industrial designers, Holleman’s Napkin PC concept also earned the distinction of winning the Chairman’s Award, handpicked by Gates. Holleman received $20,000 in prize money for both accolades.

Now in its fourth year, the Next-Gen PC Design Competition, endorsed by the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) and the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID), throws down the gauntlet to budding industrial designers and seasoned professionals working in the field worldwide to apply their ingenuity, design prowess and creative flair and vision to the task of not merely give existing computing form factors a superficial makeover, but fundamentally rethinking the PC as we know it from the ground up.

For Microsoft, the competition affords an invaluable opportunity to identify fresh design talent and foster dialog and collaboration between design professionals and the PC industry – interaction that is increasingly important amid the emergence of user experience as a key driver of technology adoption.

This year’s competition issued an open call to entrants to dream up futuristic PC designs that give a new lease of life to people’s passions, such as travelling, music or photography. Contestants were challenged to come up with groundbreaking designs, not only featuring eye-catching aesthetics, but melding cutting-edge hardware with the latest software to empower people to follow their passions.

WITHUS – 2nd Place Judges Award ($5,000)
June 16, 2008
Image: Print

Designers: Taeho Wang and Minjoong Kim, Illinois Institute of Technology.

WITHUS is designed to enhance the social development of preschool children by offering a computing environment in which they can interact with others and learn collaboration, cooperation and other social values.

What the judges said:

“Blurring the boundaries between school, peer and individual learning…huge potential for education.” – Eun Sook Kwon, University of Houston.

“Leaves the computer hardware behind and focuses on the interaction.” – George Daniels, Hewlett-Packard

Backpacker’s Diary – 3rd Place Judges Award & Public Choice Award ($5,000)
June 16, 2008
Image: Print

Designers: Zhongren Zhang, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Chun Yang, Nanjing University of Science and Technology in China.

The Backpacker’s Diary targets avid travelers with a PC concept that emulates the form of a traditional book. The different pages offer different functions such as media recording, solar recharging and electric light illuminant to enhance backpackers’ travel experience.

What the judges said:

“Great for any pleasure traveler.” – Michelle Berryman, Echo

“Strong voice for sustainable environment.” - Eun Sook Kwon, University of Houston

Napkin PC - 1st Place Judges Award & Chairman’s Award ($20,000)
June 16, 2008
Image: Print

Designer: Avery Holleman, California State University at Long Beach.

The Napkin PC is a multi-user, multi-interface, modular computer designed for creative professionals to collaborate and bring their ideas to life.

What the judges said:

“Allows the computer to become a creative and collaborative generator.” – Eun Sook Kwon, University of Houston

“The user can capture a moment (similar to a camera phone), however the Napkin PC actually allows us to decide what we want to do with it.” – Jeff Salazar, Lunar

“The Next-Gen PC Design competition was founded on the idea that the next wave of computing is all about experiences,” explains Dave Fester, general manager of Worldwide Product Marketing for the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) division at Microsoft. “This years’ competition taps into people’s passions and connects with them on an emotional level because these designs are about enabling users to easily do the things they love.”

The competition certainly captured the imagination of the design community, receiving 120 submissions from 32 countries. One common denominator across some of the different designs was a “Eureka moment” for their creators - just like Holleman’s - when perspiration met inspiration and an idea suddenly came into sharper focus.

For the third-place team of Zhongren Zhang, a second-year graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Chun Yang, a graduate student at China’s Nanjing University of Science and Technology, their Backpacker’s Diary PC design was the product of just such a moment during a backpacking expedition the two made to Germany last year.

The burden of the laptop and sheath of paper maps that Zhang was lugging around with him in his backpack prompted him to pose the question, “’how can the advantage of traditional paper maps and books be integrated into a PC to make it easier to travel?’”

But in seeking to combine such functionality into a portable, convenient form factor for travelers, Zhang knew an “all-in-one box with merely a nice shape” wouldn’t cut it.

“Instead, we tried to find inspiration from some traditional sources, so the device would be intuitive to use for backpackers,” Zhang relates.

Then came the flash of insight that crystallized precisely how they could turn their vision into elegant reality.

“One day I saw Chun adding some new pages into her notebook, which has a clip on its spine. An idea suddenly popped into my mind: why not assign each function to a page and make it like a ‘book’. We did some research on the technology of flexible materials and developed the concept.”

Zhang and Yang plan on plowing their winnings into a design studio they’ve set up with other partners, and longer term, Zhang is hoping the exposure he’s gained from the competition will help him land a job “with a company like Microsoft” when he graduates next year. “I hope this award will raise my profile with companies. I’m looking forward to working in interdisciplinary teams and helping turn exciting new design concepts into reality.”

Entrants in next year’s competition will gain even more recognition when it is folded into Microsoft’s Imagine Cup. Starting in July 2008, the Next-Gen PC Design Competition will integrate with Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, giving entrants the ultimate platform of the world’s largest student technology competition, which in 2007 drew more than 130,000 entrants from 100 countries.

In the meantime, Holleman credits the competition with expanding his horizons about what he can accomplish in addition to giving him an invaluable springboard into the profession.

“Winning this competition has changed my plans greatly. Instead of rushing out and taking the first job offer that comes my way, I am using this opportunity to really think about what I want to do and where I want to be. What I do know is that I love design, technology, and innovation, so whatever I do must include these three things.”

“Innovation, problem solving and creation are my passions, and there is nothing I would rather do,” Holleman adds. With the Napkin PC and other groundbreaking designs, the entrants in this year’s Next-Gen PC Design Competition hope that their passion can ultimately fuel the passion of others.

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