One of the saddest things about tech is that unlike other fashionable things, the aesthetic trend that might dictate what gadgets look like for a few years never gets a chance to come back into style. The most we ever get is the chance to be nostalgic about the look of an old gadget, not to fall in love with the aesthetic behind its design all over again, as if new.
For example, debatably thanks to AMC’s period drama Mad Men, Danish mid-century design has really come back into style. A whole new generation of people have come to discover and love a design trend that a mere two years ago, all but a few people would have, at best, only known by a couple musty old relics collecting dust and mouldering in their grandparents’ garage. Watching Don Draper slip into an Eames lounge chair, or pour himself a drink from a gorgeous teak sideboard, or turn on a tulip lamp designed by Eero Sarinen, though, rejuvenates these items by allowing us to see them as they were meant to be used and experienced. It removes real, living objects from the obscurity of textbooks and turns them into fresh ideas, ready to be used again.
It’s for this reason that I love seeing wood in a gadget. It takes a trend that was ubiquitous in the 70s and 80s, when home electronics were big and bulky enough to be mostly considered a kind of furniture, and presents it as a refreshing anecdote to a modern trend in tech design that puts the emphasis on more impersonal and space-age materials like plastic and metal, silicon and glass.
For me, wood can imply an intimacy — a device is yours, it was made for you — that makes it a perfect material for a smartphone: a device that is, by definition, the gadget with which most of us have our most personal relationship. And while Apple understandably doesn’t make iPhones out of wood, I’m delighted that a company like Monolith does, by offering a stunning line of natural wood backs for the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S that are as practical as they are beautiful..