I just ordered a new printer. My current printer has died a death. It’s not too clear why it’s suddenly stopped working, but it has, and such is the way of these things.

This sad moment was also a perfect excuse for me to look into a new printer - one with Apple’s AirPrint. Naturally, I went straight to the Apple store to look at prospective purchases. There’s a relatively small selection of AirPrint-enabled printers - they’re all Epson or HP. I didn’t mind, since both Epson and HP are brands that I trust and make pretty good products - and so our story begins. <!– more –>

At first glance, many of the offerings were very nice. Clean design, all pretty samey really. Glossy, black, rectangular. Fair enough. But upon closer inspection of the two I’d picked out (the Epson Stylus SX445W and the HP Photosmart 5510), there was some noticeable awkwardness in their design.

Front on, the HP Photosmart looks stunning - plain and understated. But when you look at it from the side, you’ll notice it has an awkward ‘lip’ where the scanner meets the main body of the printer. It reminds me a little of the original Fiat Multipla - like they’ve taken two different printers, cut them in half, and stuck them on top of each other. Yikes.

This weird lip also means that the control panel seems out of place - sticking out, quite literally, like a sore thumb. Maybe HP enjoy the Frankenstein’s Monster approach to design.

The HP also has a particularly tiny touch screen - a mere 6.2cm to control the entire printer isn’t really adequate. You’d end up pushing all the wrong buttons (pun unfortunate, but intended).

So, on to the Epson. This is a nice little number - plain design, big, friendly buttons, a relatively big screen (not touch screen, but that’s a good thing. Tiny touch screens are just plain silly), on top of everything that the HP offered. Great!

Again, after a little inspecting, the awkwardness started to show. The big buttons were nice, but every now and then it felt like a child’s printer. The buttons were perhaps too big and bright. They also look like they’ll make a loud ‘click’ when you push them - the kind of click that goes right through you.

In the end, I opted for the Epson. It seemed like the lesser of two evils, and it also received more positive reviews than the HP. But I’m not done yet - this isn’t a review, or a ‘look what I got!’ - it’s a cry for change.

Printers are ugly

One thing I noticed throughout my research was that every single printer currently made has these exact same characteristics:

  • Awkward, boxy design
  • High maintenance costs
  • Large physical footprint
  • (Almost) useless screens

It’s already been pointed out to me that you don’t buy something like a printer because of the way it looks - you buy it for how it performs. But here’s the thing with design in everyday objects - they’re everyday. If I’m going to have anything in my life that is going to be involved in my every day work and life, I want it to look great - or at least be unobtrusive in it’s appearance. That’s why I opt for the more expensive, better looking Field Notes than Tesco’s own notepads. It’s why I’d go for the ludicrously expensive Roberts DAB radio if I were going to purchase a digital radio.

Design is function. Design should be functional. Everything should be considered. To dismiss my fussiness as fanboyism and a “form over function” approach is silly. If something is going to be staring you in the face all day, it has to be designed in a way that prevents it from involving itself too much. It has to step aside and let you do what you need, but always be there for when you need it.

Take the Nest thermostat as an example. It’s simple design is it’s key selling point - it makes it easier to use, less intrusive in the home environment; it would even make a killer talking point. Very rarely do you see this in the design of printers, (or indeed any computers - but that’s getting better) but it would undoubtedly make them a lot more desirable.

Alas, I can see myself some time in the near future sighing at my new Epson printer - it’s huge, Duplo buttons glaring and clicking - but only time will tell. I’m sure I’ll soon be tweeting about my new purchase.