Personally I like that minimalism and want it in the products I buy, but I'd not go so far as to say it's more usable than a more prosaic alternative where you have a row of cheap indicator leds with little pictograms next to them.
Reminds me of this comic strip too:
Putting a LED at a visible location and making it invisible as long as it is off seems like a pretty elegant solution to that problem. I don’t think it’s harder to figure out the sleep light than this whole row of LEDs on my old ThinkPad with their cryptic pictograms or the dazzling array of blinkenlights on my cheap Compaq laptop (complete with equally puzzling pictograms and including LEDs which light up in different colors so you presumably have to learn a whole color code).
Macs in general only opt for LEDs when displaying stuff in the UI is not possible (sleep light and battery indicator for checking battery status when the Mac is off), one exception being that darned caps lock. Spotlight’s icon pulses when your HDD is indexed. There are progress bars when stuff is unzipped or copied. Why the need for a HDD activity LED?
That’s a bit dishonest of me. There is multitasking, so stuff might be going on in the background, but I do think that in general it’s good to strive for a world in which we don’t need HDD activity LEDs. I also think we are pretty much there, I, at least, didn’t miss it. (Although not knowing why my good old desktop PC didn’t respond in 1998 because they decided to leave out the HDD activity light would have been pretty horrible. But that was then :)
In general, dedicated hardware indicators are handy when your screen may have died or otherwise cannot rely on a monitor.
With the old Powerbooks and MacBook Pros, the hinges on the top of the lid would extend magnetically just before the lid closed. These are the small gems that makes you smile when you're interested in product design.
I haven't found minimalism to impact usability myself, but there's clearly some instances where they have given the user a task of figuring someting out. For instance, a friend of mine never figured out that the top button on his iPhone locked the screen until I told him.
Do you think we'll see a renaissance of design as a differentiator for businesses, or is something so difficult to account for prior to product launch doomed to be discarded by all but a few companies?
There are other companies, but few in the computer / consumer electronics business.
I think the key is that most companies treat design as an afterthought, or an expense. It's completely irrelevant to most users, but look at most PC laptops - they have a nice, glossy lid and front bezel. But the bottom cover seems like a minefield of stickers, covers, fan openings and screws. There is no design there. The design job ended with the obvious, visible parts.
Again, completely irrelevant to most users as they will never look at the bottom cover. But it speaks a lot about how these companies think about design - and why Apple is still the only company with a unibody laptop design.
I think the problem is that CEO types don't understand design and how you can use it to position yourself in the market. Bang & Olufsen is a great example of this: They were known for beautifully designed products in the 80's and 90's but today they are in serious trouble and laying off people. Instead of working with their design legacy, which is what made their fortune (their new products look more or less like the ones they put out 20 years ago) they try to compete on screensize and sound quality. Top management doesn't see the obvious problem, and their brand is slowly eroding away.
"So many of the products we're surrounded by, they want you to be very aware of just how clever the solution was... [a solution should] speak to how you are going to use it, not to the terrible struggles that we as designers and engineers had."
Yet, the software industry culture tends to prefer designers with computer science background/training, rather than "proper" design background.
Designing software properly _is_ "proper" design. Just a different set of variables.