The TV market never sits still. Like many areas of technology today, there are constant developments in the hardware that makes for incrementally improved viewing experiences year-on-year.
For a storied manufacturer like Philips TV, this raises the welcome challenge each year of designing new ranges of TVs that not only raise the bar technically but have new and fresh-feeling visual designs, too.
We spoke to Philips TV's head of design, Rod White, about the challenge that annual refreshes bring, and how he and his team go about innovating in small ways.
He also shared with us some amazing examples of real design sketches that you'll see throughout this article, to give a flavour of Philips TV's design process.
White has a diverse range of design idols personally - "I have many inspirations in the creative world: Naoto Fukasawa for his ability to simplify a message; Dualchas Architects are an inspiration for their understanding of materials in context; and, of course, our own principles have built on those originally expressed by Dieter Rams."
That diversity of influences is a useful backup when it comes to creating a new, unified slate of designs. White is clear that one of the main keys to creating a satisfactory design vision each year is to consider the range of products as a whole.
"We create the full year's identity refresh as one piece of work. It needs to reflect the latest aesthetic trends, while allowing step-ups through the range, and yet still retain that recognizable Philips TV feel."
This is initiated by Philips TV's Amsterdam design team, according to White; they "set the annual direction as one project for all TVs. This singular approach allows us to manage the differentiation, but also enables us to create a red thread through the annual identity." That thread of consistency is important in keeping a range of TVs consistent in their designs.
But when does this process actually start, in literal terms? White reveals that the designers' "year starts in April when we visit the Milan Salone del Mobile to observe shifts in any trends affecting lifestyle and aesthetics. From there, and building in other global trend inputs, we create a Trend Book for the team to refer to.
"The book we created this summer is now the basis for the design work we are doing for 2021." So, as you'd expect, Philips TV is thinking a couple of years into the future when it comes to its designs.
The reality is, though, that TV design has changed hugely while White has been working. "In the past, a TV was a large 3D object requiring a lot of surface creation. Today the TV itself is largely a flat panel and our role has shifted to differentiating through the details."
For example, the days of bezels being a contrast between TVs are largely over. White says this can present opportunities, though: "One reality of edgeless panels is there is no place to hide speakers, so more visible expressive representation of sound has also entered into our scope.
"Our collaboration with Bowers & Wilkins came about as we realized we needed to work with the best in the audio business, to twin with our own outstanding OLED performance."
There are myriad ways that some of Philips TV's flagship displays currently exemplify this attention to the details that matter over time.
As White explains, "The 804 OLED TV has a premium position expressed in the metal stand detailing, while the 934 brings invisible sound, together with Bowers & Wilkins quality sound and Kvadrat fabric. The 984 takes that partnership to the next level, with a visible Bowers&Wilkins tweeter centrally mounted on the polished aluminium neck."
This attitude to design also provides opportunities to work with a wider range of materials, something that excites White. "At art college, I did a lot of work in glass. Philips TV has done some glass TV and audio projects in the past, but it’s a material I'd love to work with more. It brings so much lightness to an object and immediately elevates a product. One of our guiding design principles at Philips TV is to always be exploring the use of new materials."
With that potential in hand, Philips TV looks set to remain on the forefront of television design, even as that school of design becomes more and more subtle, and is taken for granted by the contented users benefitting from it. Its approach has demonstrated its staying power.
As White says, "Philips TV is the only major European brand remaining in consumer electronics. Philips TV designs are driven by the principle of creating relevant differentiation through design archetypes that are easy to understand and use, but without any unnecessary decoration."
It's this combination of philosophies, he says, that ensure Philips TV's success. "By staying true to that, we create outstanding products and are able to be distinct from the competition."