What’s the deal with the red dot?

Once in a while I have wondered about where that red dot, generally seen near surfaces of matte black, comes from.

Richard Sapper has put the red dot on many designs like the Tizio lamp and the IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad laptop computers with their red pointing device, ”Trackpoint”. The latter has become such an icon that there is now a red dot in the Thinkpad logotype.

Swedish designers have also used the red dot, like Lars Lallerstedt on the Sonab R2000 stereo receiver. My long ago employer Ergonomidesign put a coloured hinge on the SAS airline coffee pot, white for tea and red for coffee; very beautiful but I was never convinced that red was the ultimate symbol for coffee, rather that – again – they just wanted a red dot. There is even a German industrial design prize called the Red Dot Design Award!

So where does this come from? Is it the classic red dot Leica logo? I even saw the red dot on a rifle in the window of a gun shop. maybe this is a common symbol on fire arms? Or is it even a key stimulus, like the red dot of the beak of the herring gull, that helps its babies find the food instinctively? (An instinct which makes the baby herring gulls go bananas if you show them anything with a red dot on it…)

Or is it actually so simple that many designers 30 years ago used the Caran d’Ache Fixpencil for sketching, always in front of their eyes in its beautiful matte/gloss black with a red button and sharp white text. It’s definitely a precision instrument, like all of the above!

If you are interested in the subject, you may follow the blog of David W. Hill, VP of Lenovo Corporate Identity & Design, who deals with red dots on a daily basis.

  1. 1 Comment(s)

  2. By jonas w on jun 24, 2010 | Reply

    There’s an old ad/design saying: ”if you can’t make it good, make it red”.

    And, off course, the most obvious example are these high end cameras:
    over used in moodboards at our studio.

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