iPad monism, ThinkPad dualism.

Apple’s iPad.

For decades, there was a stark, definite division between physical objects and consumer electronics. Physical objects (couches and books and food) were sturdy and touchable and straightforward and simple. The computer was obtuse, button-infested, and brimming with circuitry.

Apple’s iPad blurs that line, camouflaging its complexity beneath a real world object: a glass-fronted aluminum tray. Like your coffee table or rug, it’s sturdy and touchable and straightforward and simple. No bramble of cables, no rows of keys, and no modal workstation required. For the first time (Apple claims) a single device can unite your computing and your living. In short, the design is monistic.

Dualistic designs reject this philosophy, holding apart the human and the technological. Computers are computers. Sure, you can hide their circuits with gloss and glass. But they remain peripheral to the most fundamental human experiences: movement, emotion, food, love.

The ThinkPad: buttons, buttons everywhere.

The quintessential dualistic design–the venerable ThinkPad laptop–embodies such separation. It refuses to collapse your digital life into your real life (or vice versa). It’s a machine, bold and unapologetic, a black matte brick bristling with buttons and ports and blinking lights. The lines here are Soviet, martial, polygonal, industrial. The ThinkPad exposes its complexity and refuses to integrate seamlessly into your day-to-day world. In short, the design is dualistic.

Photos courtesy of Adrian S. Jones, inUse Consulting, and Mario Sánchez Prada.