Updating a Classic
When HP created the 35C electronic calculator in 1972, it represented a quantum leap in technology. It was the world’s first "pocket" scientific calculator, and it brought mobile calculating power to the general public. But over time, inexpensive competitors eroded HP’s market share dramatically. HP sought frog’s help to reinvigorate its calculator product line through better understanding of users. The final product suite conveys legacy qualities in an unmistakably modern design.
As the choice of astronauts, hardcore engineers, and math whizzes, HP calculators have always had a certain mystique and cachet. So, how do you update a classic?
HP largely invented the pocket calculator category, and in many ways it was the classic 35C that put HP on the map in consumers' minds. As the choice of astronauts, hardcore engineers, and math whizzes, HP calculators always had a certain mystique and cachet. But competitive products that undercut HP on price (at the expense of build quality) dramatically diminished its market share. What's more, as calculators became embedded in other products like cell phones and laptops, their relevance as a stand-alone device waned. HP needed to rethink its approach to the calculator market to address changing user needs and perceptions.
Researching a Better Design
We began our research by interviewing an array of calculator users and quickly realized that there were differing needs. The high-end calculators oriented toward "doers" needed to be sophisticated and precise, whereas the "learner" calculators needed to be friendly and reassuring. It became clear that HP’s high-end calculators were too retro looking, and its low-end calculators weren't distinctive enough to support the HP legend. It also became clear that HP had a tremendous amount of untapped
design cachet in its legacy products, so the team set about developing a modern suite of calculators that exuded the same gold standard as the original products.
The resulting Abacus design language contains many of the design cues embodied in the early HP calculators, but with the updates needed in a modern device. The tapered sides make the calculator easier to pick up from a table, allow for a comfortable grip, and make the device appear thinner. The sloped front edge creates an inviting keyboard-like aesthetic and helps lead the calculator into the user's pocket. The recessed key and display surfaces help protect the display and prevent inadvertent key presses when the calculator is tucked away.
“The Abacus design language was meant to be both aesthetically purposeful and visually cohesive, while also remaining flexible and extensible to future products,” says frog principal engineer, Cormac Eubanks. This has allowed HP to preserve the look and feel of its legacy brand in an evolving product portfolio.