Talking tech since 2003

LaCie is an interesting technology company that designs and builds all kinds of electronic accessories.  They are perhaps most well known for their beautiful external hard drives and unique key-shaped flash drives.  I remember the first time I laid my eyes on a LaCie product — I was blown away by the attention to detail and the stunning design.  I never thought an external hard drive could be so stylish, but that is what LaCie does — it turns ordinary computer accessories into design masterpieces.

The company looks to combine design and technology, which results in products that are both beautiful and performance-driven.  In addition to being beautifully designed products, they are also built to last.  I’ve owned several LaCie external drives over the years, all of which have lasted several years of hardcore usage or are still in working condition as of today.

The LaCie d2 external hard drive
The LaCie d2 external hard drive

So, how does LaCie come up with those brilliant designs?  For more than 20 years, LaCie has been collaborating with world-famous designers including, Ziba Design, Porsche Design GmbH, Karim Rashid, Ora-Ito, and Philippe Starck.  In addition to collaborating with some of the world’s top designers, for the last 21 years, LaCie has partnered with great Scottish designer, Neil Poulton.  Poulton’s designs can be seen in many of LaCie’s products including the Rugged series and the famous “blue eye” enclosures.

When I spoke with LaCie product manager, Philippe Rault, I learned more about the detailed process the company goes through when developing a new product.

The LaCie design process is broken up into four distinct phases, from start to finish, the time each phase can take varies.  For simple products, the development stage can take nine months to one year. For some products, however, it can take more than two years to come to market.

Phase 1: First, LaCie creates the high-level product definition that includes key selling points, key features and benefits, target customer, technology, material, expected product dimensions, and price. These details lead to a ‘designer brief’ where LaCie selects its designer and makes sure everyone agrees on the details.

Phase 2: LaCie’s selected designer then introduces his/her design proposals.  After receiving the proposals, LaCie looks at the mechanical structure, manufacturing constraints, and estimates the product’s cost.  This can lead to several back and forth communications with the designer until there is a single concept validated by LaCie’s Research and Development team for feasibility and cost.  After that, LaCie’s CEO validates the concept in regards to function and aesthetics.

Phase 3: Next, LaCie starts a Request For Quotation process with its manufacturing partners to validate the cost and development schedule.  Once LaCie get the quotes, they select a manufacturing partner and start the product development.

Phase 4: Lastly, LaCie launches the product on the market.

The LaCie PetiteKey USB flash drive
The LaCie PetiteKey USB flash drive

The company used this “four phase” approach when designing its latest flagship product: the LaCie Blade Runner. The Blade Runner drive was designed by Philippe Starck, who took inspiration from all kinds of things when coming up with the design, including a Kawasaki W800 Boxer motorcycle, which influenced the Blade Runner’s dark gray raw-style finish.

“With the LaCie Blade Runner, we wanted to come up with a unique design based on a mix of qualities from humans and machines,” said Mr. Rault.  The LaCie Blade Runner features a sharp, cage-like enclosure that surrounds an almost anthropomorphic, liquid metal interior.  The Blade Runner enclosure also sports fan-less heat dissipation, while the button on the side of the unit, Starck’s signature cross, glows orange when the drive is powered on and green when the drive is in Eco mode.

One thing I found really interesting is how the LaCie Blade Runner is a limited edition drive with only 9,999 units produced, and each drive has the unit number engraved into its side.  “It’s the first time that LaCie created a limited edition piece of art,” said Mr. Rault.

You can see the entire design process of the LaCie Blade Runner in images below (progression moves from left to right):

LaCie-Blade-Runner-Design-Process

If you take a close look at the images on the right, you’ll notice the word “APOLLO” engraved on the side APOLLO was the code name used with LaCie’s partners as the designer identity is kept confidential until the very last moment. You can also see how LaCie utilizes 3D modeling when developing a new product as a way to account for all kinds of manufacturing constraints. And finally, you can see how everything comes together into the finished product.  Very cool.

You might not think about all the work that goes into designing a product such as an external hard drive, but it’s a long process with a lot of meticulous attention to detail.


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