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Inside Dell's design labs

The company's design staff has ballooned in recent years as the maker of PCs and servers aims to create a new look for itself. Crave got a tour of two design labs at the company's headquarters.

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Erica Ogg
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1 of 6 Erica Ogg/CNET News

Dell consumer design lab

Dell is a very different PC maker today than it was several years ago. While a lot of how it does business is changing, the way it thinks about making laptops and desktops is, too. Here's a peek inside the company's design lab for consumer PCs and enterprise products at its headquarters in Round Rock, Texas.

On the wall in the consumer design lab are customized lid options for notebooks. The ones on the left are already available, and the ones printed on white paper on the right are potential designs that could be added to the lineup in the next few months. In December, Dell began recruiting artists to create patterns that customers could choose to add to their laptops when ordering them online.

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Alienware towers

Though not available anymore, these three Alienware towers--and their less-than-subtle designs--were on display in the design lab.
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Prototypes of Studio desktops

Later this year, Dell will expand the customization options for its Studio Desktop and Studio Slim Desktop PCs. The top row shows colors the company's designers are considering. The bottom row has prototype designs for the company's other desktop, the Studio Hybrid.
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Studio XPS sees red?

So far, the leather-trimmed Studio XPS notebook only comes in black. But that could change very soon. Dell's designers are considering a red (or according to them, "Bordeaux") plastic/leather lid combo, pictured here. It is not, however, part of the (Product) Red line.
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Next-gen server rack cabinets

Dell also maintains a separate lab where designers and usability specialists create the company's storage products, servers, racks, and software interfaces. The lab has grown from having two designers when it was established four years ago, to having a team of 13 people.

Here are three miniature versions of test designs for Dell's next generation of server rack cabinets. They played around with different materials, varying shades of gray and black, and incarnations of the company logo in order to evoke a certain message to the company's enterprise clients.

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Blade server rack from behind

Dell has not traditionally been known for its design, particularly in the area of enterprise machines. That is why, according to Tom Deelman, Dell senior manager for usability, the company has taken extra pains to try to stand out from the likes of Hewlett-Packard and IBM.

For Dell, the devil is in the details. Here, for example, is the back of a blade server rack. Instead of just creating holes for fan units to push air out of the back, Dell's designers decided to design the fan unit itself, just like a separate product. The fan units, of which there are three rows of three, were modeled after an F-18 jet's air intake. Dell hopes design decisions like that, when taken as a whole, will inspire customers to trust the machine, and the brand as a whole, more.

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