We won't go off a Dieter Rams rant here (but you should know his, but we must say there is something undeniably wonderful about having a product that is simple and aesthetically pleasing right out of the box...a device which meets the criteria of function while respecting the goals of presenting an aesthetically pleasing form without the extraneous. It's more rare than you think in the realm of tech and "gadgets"...
So what are the characteristics of a well designed technology? From a user experience perspective, we believe the best technologies are ones anyone can pick and use without too much explanation. Designing for a consumer base is much more difficult than utilitarian specialized equipment, where the technical aspects must be filtered through a process of reduction. Offer too many buttons, dials, and options, and you've got feature glut. Offer too little and you've got unhappy customers pining for more features.
But in reality, most consumer products are not so much designed as equipped by engineers and styled quickly. It's the difference between a suit off the rack and one bespoke, tailored to fit. Manufacturers tend to lean upon adding features rather than reducing and focusing with high precision to detail, replacing the often tedious process of design with a layer of eye candy and features galore (an example is overly unnecessary embedded Flash intros on websites). But when designed right, products can transcend being a technology or "thing" and let users focus on "experience".
Good examples are the Nintendo Wii, the Apple iPad, Google Chrome, the sadly defunct Flip cam, the Polaroid instant camera, Naoto Fukasawa's CD player for MUJI, and of course, most of Dieter Rams' work for Braun. All focus on experience first and foremost, and offer a simple experience. Compare these with your discount store "TV+DVD Player+Stereo all-in-one" system or "me too" products, and the argument for good design through simplicity seems as valid as one asking for more features.
One of my all time favorite devices that does what it says it does better than anyone else is my Project Turntable in sexy piano red. To me, the device is not only beautifully designed, but it's designed so well that even a vinyl newbie such as myself was able to get it up and running in less than 5 minutes.
In a day in age where everything is immediate and constantly calling for our attention (yes, I'm talking to you smartphone), it's important that companies continue to empower individuals with devices that allow us to do things without forcing us to refer to a FAQ on a website.
What's your favorite 'simply' awesome device and what makes it so great?
(Image: Hidden Radio Kickstarter Project)