Clear Craze: What Happened to Transparency and Clear Product Design?


Do you remember the days when almost every electronic product came in a clear plastic case? At least with a transparent special edition? You could see all the inner workings and it was amazing. Nowadays, it seems like manufacturers have gone back to opaque cases. What happened? Let’s take a look at the history of the Clear Craze and transparent product cases and try to figure out where they went wrong.

Transparency was all the rage

Product design has come a long way since then, but the era of transparent cases in the late 80s and 90s will always remain an iconic symbol of technological advancement. The 1990s were a time of revolution in consumer electronics and product design. One of the defining characteristics of products from that era was the focus on transparent cases. Everyone wanted to show off their expensive gadgets with sleek, ultra-thin clear plastic cases that showed off their inner workings.

Not only did this make devices look slick, but it allowed people to customize components such as different color circuit boards and upgraded parts. Many brands would even come out with special edition versions with different colors or designs to entice consumers, who were often more than happy to pay extra for something unique.  Beyond electronics, this trend is known as Clear Craze and except for some early pioneers, most of it happened in the 90s.

The trend has largely disappeared

Years ago, see-through electronics were something groundbreaking. They promised a whole new way of interacting with technology, offering clarity and sophistication in every aspect. But today, that trend has largely disappeared. Instead of see-through devices, we’re more likely to see fashionable gadgets packed with all the latest bells and whistles.

Pontiac Deluxe Six Sedan 1939 Ghost Car
Photo of the Pontiac Deluxe Six Sedan 1939 “Ghost Car” even before the prime time of the Clear Craze (Image: Pontiac1939 / Wikimedia Commons)

While this kind of modern technology might be impressive, I can’t help but miss the trend of see-through electronics from years past. They offered a clean look that felt truly elegant and luxurious – something you don’t see too often these days.

Why did the Clear Craze disappear?

At the start of the decade, see-through electronics were all the rage. Dubbed the ‘Clear Craze’, see-through phones, tablets, and even laptops were the latest trend to hit tech markets around the world. But, almost as quickly as it arrived, it disappeared – vanishing from public consciousness like a dream in a waking state. Nintendo’s Game Boy or their Nintendo 64 are a good example of this. The transparent special edition was highly popular but nowadays you can get transparent products possibly only from third-party accessory makers, but not from Nintendo. It’s no longer en vogue.

A Fire Orange N64, part of its Funtastic Series. Shown with matching controller and dummy cartridge.
A Fire Orange N64, part of its Funtastic Series, shown with a matching controller and dummy cartridge (Image: Evan Amos / Wikimedia Commons)

There are a few reasons for its disappearance – namely, issues with durability and cost – however perhaps the biggest factor was the decreased demand. After the failure of transparent cola and gravy, people seemed increasingly fed up with the Clear Craze’s appeal as it was falsified and unreal. Consumers began to prioritize functionality over transparency; leading to the Clear Craze’s inevitable death. In spite of this, see-through technology remains part of both memory and imagination – a tantalizing piece of sci-fi made real for one shining moment in time.

Other ways to make a product stand out

Manufacturers today are constantly looking for ways to make their products stand out and increase profits. After all, competition in the market can be fierce if a business isn’t careful. One unique way manufacturers have been standing out is by promoting the eco-friendly nature of their products. These days, people are a lot more conscious of their carbon footprint and like to buy items that come from companies that utilize recycled and sustainable materials in production.

Lenovo recently received a lot of positive recognition for their effort of building not only the product itself with a focus on environmentally friendly material but even the product packaging. Their “eco-friendly” ThinkPad Z13 and Z16 received the if Design Award for the product design as well as the Red Dot Design Award for the packaging. This was a big step for a large manufacturer to not only embrace sustainability but make it a brand value, and shows the way for competitors.

This environmental factor added on top of an already competitive market has allowed companies to gain a competitive edge through effective marketing to customers who are eager to buy products that have a lowered impact on our shared environment. Consumers are after transparency in other terms, they don’t want a see-through product, they want a see-through supply chain and production process and they don’t care if that’s done through a QR code, through a blockchain, or with other means, as long it’s transparent.

Understatement and elegance sell nowadays

In recent years, consumers have started to veer away from the glitz and glamour seen in product designs historically. Instead of garish and exaggerated accents, many are now drawn to items that offer subtler aesthetics. Soft colors, muted hues, and organic textures are just some of the features that can elevate a product design from ordinary to extraordinary. Consumers today prefer the luxury of simplicity: the more delicate a touch, the better. Tech is no longer for geeks only, it’s simply a part of life.

Apple iMac G3 500Mhz (2001) “Indigo”
Apple iMac G3 500MHz (2001), slot-load front view, Good Design Award 1999 (Image: Carl Berkeley / Wikimedia Commons)

Apple is maybe not the single best case for this trend and for leaving the trend, but we know that there were translucent iMacs once upon a time and something like that would be unthinkable, considering their current design values. Though I’d like to see a transparent iPhone in the future, as it was registered to the patent office many years ago, naming Scott Myers as an inventor, who would later leave Apple to work at SpaceX and Snap afterward. Walking away from designs that reach for loud statements reduces visual clutter and makes room for cleaner, minimalist interpretations while still communicating opulence and elegance.

Clear is gone, missed by some, and maybe comes back

There’s no denying that the transparent product case was once every consumer’s favorite accessory. It was a simple way to show off the device while still keeping it safe and secure. Unfortunately, with new and improved ways to personalize or style your device through color, graphics, or even engraving, consumers are shifting away from the trend of using transparent cases. Whatever the reason may be, it’s clear that the transparent case is no longer as popular as it once was – though perhaps one day we’ll see them making a comeback. After all, design trends often return after a few decades in some shape or form.

YouTube: The 90s Was Obsessed With Transparent Tech, Here’s Why – Cheddar Explains (with Laura Chiarella)

Photo credit: The feature image has been done by Hakan Can Yalcin. All other images shown are credited directly beneath the placement.

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Christopher Isak
Christopher Isak
Hi there and thanks for reading my article! I'm Chris the founder of TechAcute. I write about technology news and share experiences from my life in the enterprise world. Drop by on Twitter and say 'hi' sometime. ;)
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