2022 will forever be remembered as the year the Queen died and the year Vladimir Putin cemented himself as “Hitler 2.0” by invading Ukraine. But, as if often the case, a lot of good still managed to squeeze its way out of the muck and the mire.
Yes, the Qatar World Cup was an abhorrent blow for human rights, but that final on Sunday night was a game for the ages. Beautiful things can grow from dirt and, in the field of product design at least, there have been a handful of truly beautiful things born from the quagmire of 2022.
The products below are all feats of design and engineering that I’ve been privileged enough to spend time appreciating this year and mark something of a “personal” list for me. Because, for me at least, product design is something that needs to be truly experienced. You can admire it from afar, of course, but if you haven’t had any tactile hands-on experience with it then your opinion means very little.
So, here are my picks for best product design of 2022. Feel free to argue in the comments below.
Teenage Engineering TX-6
Teenage Engineering have earned themselves a reputation as the “Apple of the audio world” in recent years thanks to their incredibly designed and outrageously priced products. Yes, £1800 for a device that does little more than its predecessor launched 10 years prior at half the price is a bit of an insult (I’m looking at YOU OP1 Field) but when it comes to simple and useable music gear, TE are still in a field of their own.
This, for me, is evidenced by the brutally elegant TX-6 mixer. As somebody who has struggled with bulky and feature-poor live mixing desks his entire adult life as a hobbyist musician, this beautiful, functional piece of kit is something that truly marries form and function in a way that’s almost too perfect. Just a shame I can’t afford it.
Our phones have become just another disposable part of our lives. Indeed, entire industries have sprung up around phone recycling and we’re all made to feel “less than” if we’re seen carrying last season’s model. It’s a shameful state of affairs and Fairphone is one of a handful of companies trying to do something about it with their sustainable, modular smartphone.
The concept of a modular smartphone with parts that can be swapped out isn’t a new one, but it’s never really been perfected before. This is what the future of smartphone design should look like. For me, the only problem is that it runs Android, and the Mac mobile OS is one I’m not quite ready to abandon just yet for something so unstable. But if Apple wish to follow suit with an iPhone M (the m is for modular) then I’d be more than willing to climb aboard. If it was as well-designed as the Fairphone, of course.
Yes, on first glance the d-pad and the face buttons might be a little too far apart for aesthetic comfort and yes, it’s built like a tank. But hear me out – if you have spent even a few minutes with a Steam Deck then you’ll be able to appreciate just how well-designed this portable gaming PC is.
The ability to play top-tier AAA games like Elden Ring on the bus in comfort is something I would have told you was impossible a few years ago. The Nintendo Switch is great but it’s at least two generations behind in terms of sheer power. The Steam Deck, however, offers comparable gaming experience to the PS5 on a portable machine. The way Valve were able to cram so much into such a small form factor without sacrificing usability is a monumental design achievement. And that’s a hill I’m more than willing to die on.
Ray Ban Stories
We all remember Google Glass, right? The failed smart glasses experiment from almost a decade ago that hit the ground running and fell face first was an admirable concept that arrived perhaps 5 years too early and with a price point that would make even Teenage Engineering blush. The problem was they simply didn’t look every good. Too much time was focused on the tech and not enough time (if any, seemingly) was focused on the design.
If there’s one company that know how to make glasses look good, however, it’s Ray Ban and their smart glasses with discreet gadgetry allowing users to make calls, listen to music and take photos and videos directly from the sunglasses themselves, were a big success story in 2022. Yes, the tech isn’t focused on AR and all that fancy stuff but what it does do, it does very well, and we all know those AR glasses are on the horizon. Let’s hope they are even half as elegant as these bad boys!
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
I’ve been a “Mac person” for the best part of two decades now and never even dreamed of migrating over to Windows. The workflow of the OSX ecosystem was ingrained into my DNA and, as a creative, it’s been drilled into my brain for eons that “creatives and Apple go together like cheese and biscuits.” The concept of “going Windows” was an anathema to me. Until I spend a few weeks with Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio.
This was the first machine I’d used that managed to blend the functionality of laptop and tablet without sacrificing the function of the former. Yes, using it as a tablet is a little bulky but the “pivot” design that allows you to create something of a hybrid between tablet and laptop made train journeys with this laptop more painless than ever before. It looks just as elegant as any Apple laptop too and, for the price, you’re getting so much more bang for your buck. It took a while for Windows 11 to click with me but honestly, I haven’t picked up my MacBook in months.