“We were looking at how to make a simpler convertible… a device focused on making simple interactions quicker without having to open it up every time.” Brian Leonard, Vice-President of Design, Intelligent Devices Group, Lenovo, explains the logic behind the additional screen on the ThinkBook Plus Gen 3.
Although dual-screen notebooks aren’t a new concept, Brian says he took up the challenge to envision a notebook “better suited for executive-level consumers, or someone who is in the creative industry”.
The premium ThinkBook Plus Gen 3, which made its global debut at CES 2022, has a 17-inch ultra-widescreen display and an 8-inch tablet-like device embedded right next to the keyboard for drawing or taking notes.
“I could simply activate it with my Pen or engage with a computer and take some quick notes or, look at my calendar or do some other activities instead of having to stop and open my notebook one-handed, hold it in my arm or sit down at a desk,” he explains to indianexpress.com on the sidelines of CES 2022.
Even though the ThinkBook Plus Gen 3 has a traditional notebook form factor, it appears that Lenovo wanted to replace drawing tablets. “The initial vision of that was it’s really a tablet first…a device that gives quick access and with the ability to work with the device in a much simpler way where I might not need the keyboard all the time,” the award-winning veteran industrial designer sheds light on the thought process behind the ThinkBook Plus Gen 3 and especially its large secondary screen.
Lenovo has been experimenting with different laptop form factors for years, including a foldable notebook and a laptop with a built-in e-screen on the lid “There are two very different types of experiences between when we look at a foldable or what we have seen with other ideas around dual displays on the inside,” he responds when asked about how dual-screen notebooks are different from foldable laptops.
“The ThinkBook Plus (Gen 3) was really focused on how do we bring that quick access of the tablet and the things I might need to do on the screen without a keyboard really simple but still have that great notebook experience that we are used to with a great typing experience and keyboarding solution.”
While the notebook’s secondary screen may get a lot of attention, Leonard said a lot of thought went into making sure the ThinkBook Plus Gen 3 serves the purpose it’s supposed to do. The 17.3-inch ultra-widescreen 21:10 screen is an interesting choice from a design point. “When you look at wide-aspect screen ratios, it starts to bring us more productivity space where we are working, instead of just having a larger screen in a traditional form and screen aspect ratio,” he adds.
A common design issue with dual-screen laptops from other brands has been the cramped keyboard. “I don’t see any issues coming from any kind of cramped layout, because the device is actually wide enough to give us that great keyboarding experience and still maintain that secondary screen to the right-hand side of the keyboard,” he explains.
At a time when some PC brands are giving more importance to usability and/or performance over design, Leonard believes a good design is what marries both form and function. He says when it comes to form and function, Lenovo wants design and performance to come together, “so that you can’t determine where form ends and function begins.”
Leonard, who heads a team of 90 designers spread across North Carolina in the US, Yokohama in Japan and Beijing in China, says there is no single reference point while designing a product. “We spend a lot of time understanding what’s going on globally with the large trends. In the past couple of years that really gave us great insight to what’s happening with users, and how they’re going through hybrid work and working from home, also going into the office and how that changes the experience,” says Leonard.
A good design is incomplete if the product is not well engineered. “The way my team and our engineering teams work together is we look at it like our success is tied together. We challenge each other every day, we challenge them about how we make things better, how we can make them smaller, thinner and lighter, and how we get more performance.”
Although the design is subjective in nature, it’s hard to differentiate laptops from different manufacturers now. “It’s getting harder and harder to differentiate, because we’re getting such little space to actually design in,” Leonard said, adding that “a lot of it comes down to how we go and build a really quality product with really great materials, and then beautiful colours and finishes that make a truly a great product. That’s what starts to differentiate us from our competitors.”
Leonard says Lenovo will experiment with more colours and the products that will come out this year will reflect that. “We are starting to see a resurgence of people being interested in colours, and I think that’s a really exciting thing.”You will definitely start to see more colors from us.”
Without revealing what he was working on, Leonard says his design team works on at least three cycles of products at the same time. “I am trying to focus on how do we use the right materials that are recycled and are recyclable. You will see more aluminum this year, because that’s a great material. I really enjoy materials.”