This story is part of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business 2022. Explore the full list of innovators who broke through this year—and had an impact on the world around us.
Dell XPS laptops are widely regarded as the Windows world’s best portable computers, defined by how they push boundaries in ways that other notebooks—including their Dell stablemates—do not. “We design XPS for tomorrow,” explains Donnie Oliphant, who has spent a remarkable 34 years at Dell and is senior director for the company’s XPS line. Some of his team’s seemingly daring moves—such as squeezing a 13-inch display into a notebook the size of a typical 11-incher—have gone on to become industrywide trends. (In 2021, even Apple followed XPS’s lead by putting bigger screens in smaller MacBook Pros.) Dell reported a record 2021 for PC sales, $61.5 billion, and its best-ever profits, too, of $4.4 billion. The company doesn’t break out sales by product line, but the halo effect of Oliphant’s work elevates Dell’s standing even for customers that don’t buy an XPS.
With the new XPS 13 Plus, released in April, Oliphant and Dell decided to court a younger demographic than usual, aiming to please 16-to-30-year-olds who prize streamlined productivity over feature overload. Its new keyboard design fits roomier keys in the same amount of space, and Oliphant ditched the conventional discrete trackpad in favor of a touch-sensitive palm rest and replaced physical function keys with a light-up touch strip. Even the fancy woven glass Dell used on the previous XPS 13 gave way to a purposefully smooth, unornamented surface. Oliphant acknowledges that such departures could turn off the more cautious types among Dell’s prospective customers. But he stresses that the whole idea is to take calculated risks and see what happens: “We chase perfect all day long, knowing we’re not going to catch it.”