Design @ Dell


Welcome to our first post regarding Design @ Dell.  Today, Steve and I will introduce Dell’s philosophy behind design and user experience.

As many of you are probably aware, the direct model influences almost everything we do.  It allows our design and user experience teams to interact directly with customers at any point in the product development cycle.  Our challenge is to continually think through how we can design products that balance aesthetics with functionality.  We use feedback from customers to achieve that balance.  In our view, the design and usability work that our teams do ultimately influences the experience our customers have with our products. 

To guide this process, we have established core tenets that impact our complete line of products ranging from rack-mounted servers to corporate notebooks to multi-function printers.  It is what makes a Dell a Dell.  Those tenets include:

Consistency in Behavior – From connector locations to button characteristics, our products are designed to behave in a predictable that is consistent between similar products in a line.

Brand Alignment – Similar product lines with similar brand values serving similar customers are aligned under a common, unifying design language strategy.

Innovation Going beyond customer’s needs and expectations.  It comes in a variety of forms—from the numerous user-centric features on our UltraSharp flat panel displays and our intuitive user interface for our printer line, to our recently-launched hybid offering—the XPS M2010 Mobile Entertainment system.

Value – Great designs, each appropriate for meeting our different customer’s needs.

In upcoming posts, we’ll drill further into each of these tenets and provide more insight to priorities and motivations behind Design @ Dell.  Stay tuned—and if there’s a specific topic you’d like to hear more about, let us know.

Ken Musgrave & Steve Gluskoter, Directors of Industrial Design

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38 thoughts on “Design @ Dell

  1. With all due respect, who cares about philosophy!

    Isn’t it clear that what we are asking you to do is to listen to what we want from Dell and tell us how you will exceed our expectations. You don’t need philosophy about user experience, you need an action plan for making it better.

  2. "user-centric features on our UltraSharp flat panel displays"


    Like positioning the connectors so they are invisible unless the monitor is turned upside down… or perhaps orientation of the video cable connector screws that cannot be turned by human fingers (other than a petite female or a child)?

  3. Hmm, What about Beauty or Appearance? I think the first thing that comes to mind when they think of design is the appearance. Shouldn’t this be a cornerstone also?

    Also, whats up with all the talk and philosophy? I like what you talk about, but doing it is another thing. Can you explain this discrepancy? Are you aware of it?

  4. Part of design is ensuring usability. Why turn out machines (dimension 9150) without PS/2 ports that are unable to run current software? Try running the Windows XP installer – the USB keyboard/mouse can’t talk to the setup part of the install. There seems no way round this. The vista installer on the beta2 recent release on the other hand works fine with the USB components.

    Dell need to think seriously before turning out desktop machines without legacy features like floppy disk drive, PS/2 access.


  5. The future of the Internet and the Operating System of the future are being defined at this moment as the OS that will converge the Telvision and the Computer into an eHome Network Appliance that will deliver everything from Interactive eCommerce Television to advanced eHome Services in the areas of Education, Security, Health, Energy, etc.  

    While this is all happening the big players are moving to consolidate a piece of the action, Cisco bought Linksys and Scientific Atlanta, AT&T bought a large piece of Akimbo, Microsoft is aquiring acusitions in Cable Companies and other MSO’s such as Comcast while also partnering with MTV and other major players.  The interacive Meta Tag standards are being set for Consumer DVR manufacturers at and Dell is still to jump in this space?

    When is Dell going to jump fully into defining the eHome of the future and stop just talking about it in small terms?

    Robin Hood

    [email protected]

  6. I kinda like Dell’s design of XPS M1210. Whoever in your company designed it.. a big kudos to you.  

    My gripes with Dell notebooks is the notebook is not tested for hardware errors.  I received few Inspiron notebooks.  Out-of the box, I ran the dell diag and it gave me error codes in which the technical support confirmed a hardware issue.

    I’m not surprised because the time the notebook was built, tested and shipped is unbelievably fast.

    Customers sure want to receive their orders as soon as possible but I’m sure they prefer "design, quality" than speed in processing the order.

    Imagine.. Order the notebook today.. the notebook is manufacturing – build and tested next day.  Shipped on the 3rd day.  That’s so great but the big questions is.. how did they test it? How come.. out-of-the-box, the notebook has hardware issue.  I even came across to an Inspiron notebook that has "design issue".  That is the term that was given to me by your Customer Service.  I was asking for a replacement but she suggested to me to "return" the notebook and make a refund or order another model of your notebook because of design issue with Inspiron Model XXXX.  

    I think if the testing of the notebook at the factory is being done without any rush and running your own dell diag per notebook for hardware error will give some help.

  7. I’m wondering why Dell is taking so long to implement AMD’s chips in their PCs and notebooks? Customers have demanded it, yet all we see is hemming and hawing, with a begrudging acceptance only in the server side. Does the company have an exclusivity agreement with Intel with financial incentives to keep them Intel only on desktops and notebooks? Ultimately, do these financial incentives outweigh the lost business and market share to HP? So far, the massive decline in market value of Dell’s stock doesn’t suggest so. Why don’t you actually give customers what they want instead of just saying you do?

  8. Why do your servers look so much cooler than anything else you turn out? So simple and clean compared to your overdetailed, button-studded, two-tone, plasticky Inspirons for instance. I only get to admire my PowerEdges every 6 months or so… Please give us sleek minimalist industrial appeal in your desktop/laptop line, we’re dying here!

  9. The word of note is design, and the action is described in your press in Businessweek ” From Yawn to Yipes” article:

    Dell has beefed up its internal team of industrial designers, [it has expanded links to outside design firms.]

    Steve – call me on this will you?  Seriously…

  10. Consistency within lines?  Yeah right.

    I bought a Dell over an IBM largely because you had a critical feature to me: a mouse pointer in the middle of the keyboard. The price was better and your computers were more stylish, so I bought an Inspiron.

    So, when after countless repairs you guys finally admitted the PC was a dud (maybe that the whole Inspiron line is, from what I’ve heard), I could only exchange it with another Inspiron, but none of these had the feature.  Apparently an upgrade to a Latitude or something, which still have the feature, is out of the question for whatever reason.  So now I’m stuck using these horrid touchpads that have nowhere near the speed, accuracy, and minimization of movement that the stick had (and yes, I’ve been using touchpads for over a year now–I still find they are inferior).  If there were any complaints about your point sticks that influenced the decision to phase them out, it’s probably because they weren’t as good as your competitor’s.  Other brands are flat, grippy, and only need a light touch.  Yours were small, rounded, uncomfortable, and needed a fair amount of force.  Still, they were better than a touchpad…

  11. Ken, Steve – Help these guys out and explain what industrial design is and  how it has nothing to do with legecy ports, using AMD over Intel, overheating lappys, or even hardware testing.

    And sereiously,  "Beauty or Appearance"?  What did you think "Great designs, each appropriate for meeting our different customer’s needs." meant?  Have people not seen their current desktops?  The designs are sweet and quite a jump from previous lines.  And yeah, they’re grey.  and black, and white.  Lets see, HP – grey, white, Apple – white, black, grey, Sony – black…. see a trend?

  12. I’m still running an Inspiron 8100 which has been pretty good to me over the last four years. My only real complaint is that the Hard Drive and the Optical Drive were both put on the same IDE channel (the HD as Master and the OD as Slave), even though there was a spare IDE channel. From what I’ve read, doing this is a big no-no, since it data cannot be read/written to both devices at the same time. When I asked why this was done, I was just told "…because that’s just the way it was designed.". Not sure if this is related somehow, but when I connect a HD to my USB 1.1 port the whole system slows down (eg. reading/writing to the main internal IDE HD) when reading/writing to this drive. I hope current Inspiron models (inc. XPS) do not suffer from this problem – Does anyone know ?

    I’m currently looking into getting a new laptop (probably end up being a maxed out XPS m1710) and got carried away about the specs of my ideal laptop machine (I hope some DELL product designers check this out 😉 ). Below is a list of things not currently available

    – 20" WQXGA (ie. 2560×1600 like the 30" monitor) screen (some might say this would result in text that’s too small, but my current machine is a 15" UXGA screen which is fine and roughly equivalent pixel size to a 20" WQXGA).

    – Similar chassis to XPS m1710, but obviously larger to fit the 20" screen (I’m not keen on the m2010 design)

    – RAID5 system configured with 3 (minimum number needed for RAID5) 200GB or bigger 2.5" 7200rpm HD’s (I know this size/speed HD is not currently available, but I’m sure it will be. RAID5 allows data retention even if one of the drives fail. RAID0 and RAID1 should also be an option)

    BTW, is this the best place to make suggestions about new features ?

    If not, where would be the best place to send them ?

  13. I forgot to mention one of the specs not available on DELL’s which are available on other makes laptops….

    Dual Graphics card (eg. Dual 512MB NVidia® GeForce™ Go 7900 GTX SLI Enabled)

    Also,k with Intel currently leading the CPU market with Core 2 Duo, it should support Core 2 Duo laptop CPU’s (maybe even quad core as well)

  14. Thanks Lionel.

    Another couple of suggestions for new laptops:

    – Include 1 or 2 eSATA II ports (3Gb/s) for connecting external devices (particularly hard drives). This is a much faster interface than firewire and USB2.0, although the firewire and USB 2 ports should also still be present on the laptop. This would be a great addition to a laptop since I believe this will be the predominant interface for connecting external HD’s in the future.

    – 16x or 12x DVD laptop burner, with possible HD-DVD and/or Blu-Ray support.

    While the 20" WQXGA laptop might be a way off, the other features would make great additions to a new version of the XPS 17" laptop.The m1710 is particularly lacking at the moment in not supporting at least RAID 0, allowing double the HD size.

  15. I’ve been reading up a bit more on RAID and the performance gains from using it. From an article around mid-2004, on-board RAID and cheap RAID controllers generally don’t improve performance much since they are more like software RAID. However, with dedicated hardware RAID controllers performance gains can be as much as 40% over single drive systems with RAID 0. RAID 1 systems have improved read performance over single drive systems, but write performance is similar.

    I imagine with a good dedicated hardware RAID controller that a RAID 5

    setup would have both improved read and write performance whilst being tolerant to the failure of one of the drives in the array.

  16. R: Thanks for your suggestions on external SATA II ports, a faster DVD burner, and RAID capability on the m1710.  Will pass that info to our notebook development team.

  17. One last suggestion (I promise 🙂 ) – support for connecting up 5.1 speakers to the m1710. Currently, I think only 2 channel is supported due to lack of audio sockets.

  18. I love the new XPS system’s design, the lines.  Why is it that the XPS sytems get to look so good, while the rest of the products (optiplex, dimension), look so—“not very cool”?  It’s as if Dell uses two different teams to design XPS vs. other lines.

    Can you get ALL Dell products to start being aesthetically pleasing?  Easy on the eyes.  It may require you to put more artist than engineer behind the design…


  19. I am waiting for DELL to fill a rather large hole in its XPS notebook product range – a 15″ version of the m1210.

    Let’s call this missing notebook the m1510. Where the hell is it? I am currently entertaining the idea of purchasing an Acer 8210 series notebook just because DELL doesn’t have a mid-spec notebook in the XPS line, and they have removed the ability to customise an Inspiron 6400 with a mid-spec video card like the Mobile Radeon X1600 or Go 7600.

    DELL talks about providing options for us, the consumer, and they do. No other notebook manufacturer allows such easy and transparent configuration of their notebooks. But please give us the options that make sense and don’t leave us wanting.

    Not allowing an Inspiron 6400 to be optioned up with a mid-spec graphics card would make sense if the m1510 existed already. But it doesn’t and there is no word on if it ever will.

    Right now DELL’s customisations for some products just don’t make sense.

  20. The m1210 is a really sweet product and is clearly the fruit of some inspired design work, as well as an aligned marketing division.

    Now, if only that same design spawned an m1510 with the new X1700 Mobile Radeon or a mid-spec mobile version of the nVidia G80 chipset in time for a Vista release…

  21. One design suggestion – how about a removable notebook mousepad that doubles as a rechargable wireless mouse? You could dock it in the keyboard deck and use it in place or pop it out to use as a wireless mouse.

    It would have a touch pad or joystick control on top to use while docked, and an optical laser sensor on the bottom for use undocked.

    It would recharge itself while docked so you wouldn’t need to replace batteries like you do with other wireless mice. it would also be less likely to be lost than an aftermarket wireless mouse.

    Send me the first one.

  22. I agree with toast in every word he said. I wonder why Dell did not include a 15″ model in XPS line. The M1710 is the best gaming portable station ever but it is too big and heavy. On the other hand the M1210 is very light and it’s what I prefer to call it a “travel companion” but the screen of it is too small. So why Dell don’t provide a model that mixes the pros of the two in a medium size model which is predicted to be M1510 if it will have a 15″ screen.

    It’ll have a bigger screen than the M1210 so you’ll get a better view and it’ll be difinitely lighter and smaller than the M1710.

    If Dell just do that, the “M” in the model name won’t stand for mobile anymore it’ll be for the “Magnificent 1510”.

    So when will Dell makes our dream come true?!!

  23. I’m sure the design teams for my recently purchased Dell XPS 210 system put in a lot of effort to make the tower and monitor look good.

    Does anyone at Dell realize what a disappointing solution has been reached to connect the monitor when a Radeon X1300 video card is included in the system?

    A horrible solution to a bad design. 

    The Radeon card socket type means none of your standard cables can connect to it – and I have to use an ugly Y-connector. This sticks out about 9 inches from the back of the tower, making a previously elegant design look horrible.

    None of your help-line engineers (I spoke to 3 altogether) seemed able to understand it, until I sent images to illustrate.

    I’ll be interested to know if this ever gets solved.

    I’m posting this here because it’s a general design issue – and I couldn’t see any other feedback options apart from customer service on your site.

  24. Congraturation of purchasing Alienware. Now that’s a cool ID. Dell can learn a lot about ID from them, I think.

  25. I recently purchased a Dell Inspiron 1505.

    Some of the design elements were very good and well thought. However, some features that we expect in a consumer oriented laptops are just not available. For example, a built-in microphone. I am sure that it will add cents if built in. And unlike a higher end graphics card which everyone may not need, a microphone and a set of speakers are what almost everyone require.The absence of a webcam as an option (except in xps) is another similar feature most consumers would like.

  26. Why can’t the LCD display be powered directly from the computer’s power supply?  Laptops have done this for years.

    When the standard monitor was a bulky power hungry CRT, it made sense for the monitor to be plugged into the wall ,but that is not the situation any more.

    Why can’t there be low-voltage power available from the back of the desktop (possibly with circuit breakers) to power the monitor, the printer, the router and firewall, etc. all from the desktop rather than each having their own power brick.  The way things are now is power inefficient, adds cost, bulky, and strangles us in cords that are mostly coiled up into knots that generate even more power losses from trying to be induction coils.

    You sell these things with your own name on them.

    Make it a Dell standard and the industry will follow. 

  27. Dell laptop design:
    You need a screen, a keyboard, an on/off switch, some nifty I/O and something fast, effectiv and silent under the hood. You don’t need control buttons for cd play, buttons for God knows what, lights flashing everywhere, a 2-5 cm border around your screen, a silver finish (which makes using a Dell outdoor impossible…) and an overall look of a 1978 Trabant!

    Just keep it simple, elegant, stylish & fast!

    When you get to the point where sales staff complain by saying “Really, these Inspirons you bought for us: It’s almost embarasing to pull them out of the bag at meetings, especially when you represent a design firm. Couldn’t you get us something cool from Apple instead?”

    So we got rid of the Dell Inspirons (traded them for a rusty 1979 Trabant) and got something elegant from Asus:

    You are on track with the Lattitude 420, but a 12″ screen just doesn’t cut it! 



  28. Musgrave’s & Gluskoter’s comments are appreciated.  Design is so important fundamentally.

     As an ordinary computer user, I would like to make some suggestion regarding “cosmetics.”  The design philosophy at Dell on this matter is unknown to me, but I would guess that it has a lot to do with marketing and competition.  During my work experience, I had several differences of opinion with “designers” over attractive design vs. function.  My view has always been that function must take priority over form.

     OK, what does that have to do with design at Dell?  I have a new E520 desktop and am enjoying it.  It is a successor to a seven year old Dell XPS 7xx something or other, and a pleasure to use.  With a couple of exceptions.

     The upper face of the tower unit is black.  So is the keyboard, but the keycaps have enough contrast that it is no problem.  Unlike the keyboard, however, the tower unit has NO contrasting features.  The two drive doors are black, the buttons are black, the floppy drive face is black, the headphone, microphone, and usb ports are immersed in black panels.

     At least for me, black on black is outrageous from an “ergonomic” point of view.  I couldn’t find the drawer buttons, couldn’t find the floppy drive release, and have to go really hunting at close range to plug in headphones or jump drives. 

     I have resorted to painting the drawer buttons with whiteout. and using  whiteout to help guide me to the sound ports and usb ports.

    For whoever approved this design, I would like to have him/her/them be the recipients of every communication with black font on black paper, (or white font on white paper would be OK also). 

     Folks, this is so disappointing from Dell.  I use these features daily.  Why oh why can’t they simply be visible.  I’ll confess to being age 79, but honestly, that has nothing to do with the problem. 

     Hope somebody is listening.

  29. Al Nagy couldn’t be more correct!  I’m only 58, but the black-on-black of my new XPS410 is ridiculous.  If I can’t SEE it, I can’t USE it!  Get the designers out of the ivory tower and into a local Best Buy.  Have them take a good look at the new HP boxes.  Even a guy with poor eye sight can see the optical drives and media readers on the HP’s (or Gateways).  Little things like this is why Dell is getting their *ss kicked in the market place.  My next box will either be HP or home built.  And do the designers and engineers know that eSATA ports are something that users (buyers!) might want and need?

  30. I would like Mr Dell, Ken Musgrave & Steve Gluskoter, (Directors of Industrial Design) to see my idea and comment on it. 

    It would help 99% of all laptop users.

    It is innovative and original.

    It is low tech

    I am willing  to give it to Dell if someone from Dell contacts me ( In the past I attempted to get the idea to you but got scared once I saw the legal paperwork you sent me ! )  Since then I have not seen any PC maker include this feature.  

    I am pleased to see you are more open to ideas now.

    p.s.  my idea would be a great selling point and you would be the first to have it.


    Maybe you are not so open to new ideas, since you have not moved I will now approach HP and Acer with my idea.

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