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Marc Newson Designs A New Camera For Pentax, And The Tech Nerds Hate It

Granted, they’ve got about as much taste as a newt with its tongue cut out. But it’s interesting to observe the spread between main street tastes and high-design sensibilities.

3:30 minutes into the official K-01 launch interview the inter-title asks, “What image did you want to present of the Pentax brand through this creation?” Designer Marc Newson replies, “I wanted to present an image of quality and of expertise in the area of photography.” Later in the same interview, he says, “this is really a serious tool, it feels like a quality product, and I think it looks serious as well.” I wonder how he felt when he read Engadget’s hands-on preview, with the headline “Pentax K-01 mirrorless camera doesn’t feel as cheap as it looks.

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Newson is a designer with serious chops. His work encompasses futuristic airport lounges, high-quality watches and a jetpack. In an interview with Dezeen, he seems quite confident about the look of the product. “Almost all the cameras on the market I find pretty ugly,” he says, “That’s just me speaking as a personal opinion but I am a professional designer so I feel I have a right to make judgments like that.”

Compare that to the judgment of Gizmodo, whose headline reads “Pentax’s K-01 Mirrorless Camera Puts Substance Over Style (Because It Has No Style)” and whose U.K. correspondent compared the look to “the Fisher Price ‘My First Camera’ toys we probably all had.”

I mention all of this not to pick on Pentax or Newson, but because it’s really interesting to see the slippage between the intention and perception of a design. When talking to Dezeen, Newson gives the classic designer interview. He talks about the importance of simplicity. He discusses the importance of embracing the materials (and makes fun of cameras with faux-leather textures). “This is absolutely rubber. I love rubber. Make it look like rubber and use a nice color to do it.” The nice color, in this case, being the bright yellow that has people thinking of toys.

I keep thinking of Raymond Loewy’s MAYA principle. Loewy’s idea was that the role of industrial designers was to find solutions that were the Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable. The recognition was that if a solution was too big a departure from the current norms, that people would reject it. A designer’s role, then, is to push the edge of Acceptable allowing things to become more and more Advanced.

With the K-01, Newson is consciously playing this game, I think. On choosing yellow as a body color for one of the three designs, he acknowledges that most people will end up buying the black one. “Nevertheless, this is the one that will get all the editorial.” One can’t help but wonder if he considered what kind of editorial it would get.

The fate of the camera won’t be decided by a few snarky blog headlines and, for my part, I think the yellow rubber is kind of great. I’m looking forward to learning about how the camera does in the marketplace and whether it really is one step closer to Newson’s vision of the future where “everything will look really cool, and work really well.”

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[Images courtesy of Pentax and Marc Newson Limited]