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The Clone Wars

Confessions of a Computer Case Designer - An Interview with NZXT.'s Johnny Hou

In a market that is filled with clones of products, especially in the Asian markets, it doesn’t take long for imitation to happen. Just a month after the release of NZXT’s signature Guardian case, the design was copied. When we asked Johnny if NZXT found any knock offs that got the copying right down to the “Johnny H. Signature”, he replied, “No, but we were thinking, ‘Nice! Free advertising!’”

Although Johnny knows that popular designs do get copied, he never expected such a level of support from the NZXT fans in protest of the alleged cloning of one of his designs. Johnny recalls the backlash that came from NZXT’s user community. Members of the NZXT community actually organized email campaigns to the manufacturers in question to stop their copying of his designs. At the time, NZXT was the only case manufacturer with an open user forum allowing customers to talk about their products. Since then, it has become one of the largest company sponsored communities on the web. It was such a good idea, a month later, a very large and prominent case manufacturer by the name of CoolerMaster also decided to launch an online community. Johnny was very flattered when he heard that.

Through the forum, NZXT has gotten an unprecedented level of feedback in new designs and products. NZXT values the community so much that they have even used ideas from their members to develop products and even name them. “The Lexa name was actually a result of a community contest to win an initial production Lexa chassis”, recalls Johnny in regards to the name of one of NZXT’s newer chassis designs.

What is an NZXT?

Confessions of a Computer Case Designer - An Interview with NZXT.'s Johnny Hou

Although the name NZXT is now synonymous with great robot headed computer cases and the infamous “Johnny H. signature”, Johnny confessed that the company name, NZXT, ironically, doesn’t actually mean anything at all. “The name was derived from a simple ‘NEXT’ for ‘next generation’, but we wanted a name that would stick in peoples heads as unique so we switched out E for Z; the letter that resembles E the most.”

Though Johnny admits that this effectively made the name unpronounceable, it did give their brand some added mystery and flair, making the name memorable. His favourite meaning of the name actually comes from one of their original NZXT community members. “I think one fan described NZXT as “Next generation Zion Xenon Technology. Interesting...”

Always Inspired. Always looking to the Future.

When Johnny isn’t in a meeting, or playing video games, or trying to get pulsing LED’s put into a design, he makes certain that he and his design team are never without creative materials to derive inspiration from. “When I designed the Nemesis and Guardian I was watching Gundam Seed episodes over and over. I even imported some books from Japan. Sticking to our mission statement, we looked for everything gamers liked to do and implemented that feel into our case designs. You can never lose touch with your audience”. Even with his added job responsibilities, Johnny also spends time ensuring that his creativity is consistently stretched. “On weekends, I try to hone in my design skills by reading sketch and design books”.

While Johnny is a computer gamer at heart, he’s also quite the console gamer on the Microsoft Xbox 360. Since NZXT derives influence from gamers, I had to ask if NZXT was going to be pursuing the console gaming market in the future. “People are sending us emails all the time to develop monitors, speakers, keyboards, and other accessories. We're looking at all possibilities but we want to make sure everything we do is right so we're taking one step at a time.”

The computer hardware market is fairly volatile, so I asked him where he would see himself if NZXT was no longer an option. “It would probably be Antec or Silverstone. Antec's got an incredible marketing team, I have always admired the way they present their products, and I think I would be able to grow a lot there. Silverstone is also another company that has shown they are not afraid to put out expensive cases as long as the demand was there. They gave a lot of other manufacturers’ (including NZXT) confidence to sell products at that level too.”

A Young Gun in the Old East

At twenty-three years of age, Johnny Hou is not only one of the youngest designers, but he carries the burden of promoting the products that keep NZXT profitable. For such a young individual, Johnny has not only shown wisdom beyond his years, but has also shown reckless abandon for established norms; a signature of any successful designer. As history would tell us, it has definitely paid off. While it would be easy, to cultivate a large ego, Johnny still remembers the people that have gotten him there. “All of our products are developed by a great team of people and I'm just happy that our customers are satisfied with our designs”.

We'd like to thank Johnny Hou of NZXT for allowing us the opportunity to sneak into his busy schedule.  You can view all of Johnny’s hard work on the NZXT website at www.nzxt.com

Today, Johnny Hou, who is now older, wiser and twenty-seven years of age,  has not had to take a job with ANTEC or Silverstone. In fact, the company is on a huge growth spurt thanks to its recent success with the new Phantom enclosures. But the road to the daring Phantom design was not an easy one; an experience he is well accustomed to with many of his signature designs. Johnny told us that it took over three years just to get buy in to give this case a shot. He definitely hit the bullseye with this one.

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