Cover of Instant

Cover of Instant

It’s appropriate that a lot of love went in to this book since it’s about a suite of products that were so dearly loved by a few million people. I’ve been looking for a good history of Polaroid and of Land, it’s (co-)founder for some time. There is a biography I couldn’t get in to but Instant knocks the ball out of the park.

Beautiful pictures complement the text throughout the book

Beautiful pictures complement the text throughout the book

It’s a quick read and it’s pretty high level but it gives some idea of the depth of the product. It’s probably the best book I’ve read in 2012.

Product design highlights from 30-40 years ago

Product design highlights from 30-40 years ago

The product design captured within the pages is quite something; specifically look at the top-right picture in the above pages. It could easily be the packaging for an Apple product, only a few decades early. Indeed throughout the book parallels between Apple and Polaroid are frequent enough that you trip over one every other page. Live music at showcase events. The slow product reveal. The focus on simplicity. The manic founder working long hours.

There is some high-level detail of the photographic systems and processes themselves. Enough for you to smack your forehead at the thought of the insane amount of engineering that went in to instant photography. I had no idea, for example, that the milky-white color of Polaroids when they were spat out of a camera is actually there to protect the development process from ambient light. It’s an entirely separate chemical process from the picture development itself designed to last long enough for the photo to develop in darkness.

In the end all this analog technology was superseded but that was only a piece of the puzzle of Polaroids fall. Large other chunks include ejecting the founder and an Apple-esque set of disasters managed by the bureaucrats that followed. Polaroid lives on over at the impossible project and elsewhere as the book concludes.

So, well worth a read.