7 Product Designs That Define the 21st Century

7 Product Designs That Define the 21st Century
7 Product Designs That Define the 21st Century

Industrial design is so closely associated with pop culture that you can look at an influential consumer product from a given era and instantly guess the product’s year of manufacture within a few years. Who could possibly forget the translucent blue Apple iMac of the 1990s or the boxy cordless phones of the 1980s? The 21st century has seen its fair share of iconic product designs as well, and some of those designs are so influential that they have become synonymous with those types of products.

So, what are the product designs that have defined the 21st century so far? In this list, we’ll discuss the most influential designs of the past two decades.

JUUL E-Cigarette

The 21st century will go down in history as the century that brought us vaping, the technology that will one day render the tobacco cigarette irrelevant. The e-cigarette from companies like V2 E-Cigs UK is a gadget, a lifestyle product and a public health revolution all in one. More than any other vaping product, though, the design of the JUUL e-cigarette has become emblematic of vaping as a whole. Inspired itself by the rectangular shape of USB thumb drives, the JUUL now has so many users and has become so ingrained in pop culture that many people think of it – not traditional cigarettes – when they think of tobacco products.

Apple iPhone

The most influential product design of the 21st century is, so far, that of the Apple iPhone. The iPhone has become such a ubiquitous product that it seems almost cliché to include it on a list of influential industrial designs. It is impossible, however, to overstate the importance of the iPhone as a product that’s virtually perfect in every way. To get an idea of how important the iPhone has been for 21st century product design, just look for a picture of what passed for a high-end smartphone – the Nokia N95, for example – before the iPhone hit the market. At the moment of its release, the iPhone instantly made every other phone on the market look a decade out of date. It goes without saying that other phone makers instantly began to copy the iPhone – and they didn’t just copy the phone’s physical appearance. They copied its operating system, the way it worked – everything. The iPhone defines modern communication and is the epitome of 21st century luxury design.

Dyson Vacuum

What the iPhone has been for luxury consumer gadgets, Dyson has been for common household appliances. Before the release of the Dyson cyclonic vacuum in the 1990s, all household vacuum cleaners stored dust in replaceable bags. When a vacuum bag becomes clogged, the vacuum loses suction. Vacuum manufacturers didn’t want to release bagless vacuums, though, because the sale of replacement bags was an important profit source. James Dyson designed a bagless vacuum that didn’t lose suction as it filled with dust, and the rest is history. Dyson’s revolution for the 21st century, however, was the battery-powered stick vacuum. Light and incredibly easy to move around the house, the Dyson stick vacuum made floor cleaning easier for homeowners everywhere. To see the influence that the Dyson stick vacuum has had, you only need to check the vacuum section at your local Target or Walmart; every vacuum maker now offers at least one model that looks basically the same as a Dyson stick.

Quadcopter Drone

Although no single manufacturer has defined the radio-controlled drone market in the way that Apple and Dyson have defined their markets, there is no doubt that the quadcopter drone is an iconic product of the 21st century that will only increase in importance with time. For now, drones are mainly hobbyist gadgets. They’ve become affordable enough that many people can buy them, and people buy drones to experience the thrill of piloting an aircraft or to take dramatic aerial photos. The true influence of drones over daily life in this century exists only in our imaginations so far, but it’s definitely coming as soon as companies figure out how to overcome a few legal and safety hurdles. Before the end of the century, drones will almost certainly be delivering our packages, our pizzas and just about everything else.

Plastic Water Bottle

Perhaps no product defines the excesses and the selfishness of the 21st century more aptly than the plastic water bottle. Bottled water is affordable, convenient, tasty and refreshing. It’s also marketed to perfection – which is why Americans spend billions of dollars each year on something that’s essentially filtered tap water. Most water bottles, unfortunately, end up in trash cans rather than recycling bins – so we’re all going to pay a terrible environmental toll for all of that excess plastic one day. Until then, though, bottled water will undoubtedly remain everyone’s “soft drink” of choice.

The Tweet

The rise of social media in the 21st century was inevitable; it was a natural conclusion of the revolution that brought us the World Wide Web in the 1990s. Social media, in other words, would have happened with or without Twitter. When you think about it, though, no individual product – save perhaps for the Facebook “like” icon – is more visually emblematic of social media as a whole than the tweet. The tweet is a bite-sized bit of information or entertainment that looks great on any screen. It’s easy to embed in a webpage. It invites the viewer to interact with and share it. It’s the perfect digital product for the reduced attention spans of the 21st century.


Bitcoin doesn’t have a physical appearance, making it truly a product with a perfect design for the digital age. The idea behind bitcoin – the idea that you can use nothing but computing muscle to create something with value even though it’s completely intangible – is uniquely representative of the 21st century. The fact that bitcoin has no intrinsic value, of course, may mean that it won’t always have monetary value as it does today. The design of the technology behind it, though – blockchain – isn’t something that’s going to go away. Already, financial institutions and other companies around the world are using blockchain technology to enhance security and prevent fraud.