You never know when inspiration will strike. In James J. Girard's case, it was on a living-room sofa, where the Hewlett-Packard Co. industrial designer was watching the 1951 sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still. He had been puzzling over how to embed indicator lights into round buttons to save space in a portable computer printer he was designing. Then, on the TV, a giant robot appeared, shooting death rays from a narrow slit in its rounded helmet. Suddenly, Girard had his answer: a thin strip of clear plastic across the middle of the button, backlit to show it's turned on.

That's just one detail that sets HP's award-winning Deskjet Portable Printer apart from other printers on the market--and from HP's own lineup.

Girard didn't really set out to create such a sleek look. His task was to cram the original Deskjet into a package half the size. The clean, flat sides, for instance, make the printer easy to pack. And the rich blue-black color does more than just make the printer look smaller. It doesn't show the dirt.

Girard also sought to make the machine a snap to use. Says IDEA juror Chipp Walters, a principal at Design Edge in Austin, Tex.: "He did a nice job communicating in the design how the printer works." The ease with which the compact package unfolds into a working machine recalls Transformer toys.

Another important feature of the design was to include a sheet feeder that didn't take up much space. With other portables, you have to feed the paper in laboriously, one sheet at a time, or else haul around a bulky multiple-sheet feeder. To avoid those limitations, Girard designed an optional sheet feeder that attaches seamlessly to the Deskjet printer, even when it's

folded up for travel.

The Deskjet Por-table has been particularly popular in Japan, but not as a portable. Desk space is so tight in Japanese offices that workers want something that they can easily shove into a drawer--no matter how good it looks.

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