The Fetch TV is amongst the most beautiful set top boxes I’ve ever seen. In fact, it’s one of the few set top boxes I’d dare call beautiful at all. But it has a certain monumental quality, a certain subtle sculptural significance, that’s so often lost in the electronics space.
So imagine my surprise when its visionary designers from Artefact tell me about a trip they took to meet manufacturers in Asia and Africa, in which they decided a completely custom design wasn’t the best approach.
"Often, when you’re dealing with a contract manufacturer, the first thing they want to do is sell you the box they made for someone else already," explains Artefact’s head of industrial design Fernd van Engelen.
"There was literally a book with 25 set top boxes they wanted me to flip through to see if there wasn't one that would work," continues Jonas Buck, van Engelen's colleague and Fetch TV design lead. "From my perspective [as a designer], it seemed pretty insane."
"What we were able to do, though, out of that catalog of off-the-shelf stuff, was buy an architecture that worked, and do something really quite striking, out of the norm, just with a couple of simple plastic parts," van Engelen finishes. "We were able to achieve something iconic without imposing a big engineering effort on the internal components. As a designer, you have to be sensitive to the economic realities of the people you’re working with. You can’t always lead them down the path of going custom every step of the way. Good design has to be thoughtful. I think it’s more than just the aesthetic consideration that you have to take into account."
And that’s really the story behind the Fetch TV. It’s a relatively stock set top box for the Australian media outlet Delimiter. But in a clever twist of industrial design, a series of floating white panels act as a fresh skin. Black channels frame the device, carving out its own lines while offering a few other neat tricks: These valleys serve as a venting system without noticeable vents, and reveal an LED glow from a void when the device is active.
It’s brilliant, as both an approach to business and as a way to build a product for the unique showroom that is the domestic living room.
"You want it to be something special that’s noticeable for someone when they walk into the home right away, but on the other side...it should blend in," Buck says. "We don’t want every single device in our homes to scream at us. If we’d gone just for iconic, you end up with a lot of very iconic things next to each other that start screaming. We wanted the sweet spot between something special and [something that] after a year of use can keep."