The inside story of Lenovo's ThinkPad redesign

“When you talk to end users about ports, they’ll tell you how much they need them. They’ll talk about the vast number of USB devices that they have. It’s easy to hear that and determine that you need five or more ports based on what these people report. When you watch these people work, however, and you’re more overt in your methods — you rarely see that happening.

Sometimes, there’s a conflict between what someone reports they need and what they require.”

So begins the backstory of the latest ThinkPad overhaul as told by Corinna Proctor, the senior research manager at Lenovo’s User Research Center. Clearly versed in the art of separating whimsical wishes from bona fide requirements, she spoke to me in a phone interview alongside two of her colleagues in the run-up to today’s unveiling of the redesigned ThinkPad T431s Ultrabook. The machine itself is still very much a ThinkPad — it’s black, it’s understated and it’s tough as nails — but those who appreciate the evolution of technology will no doubt recognize some changes. Changes that began as mere notions some 18 months ago.

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