Suede may be the new beige when it comes to PC design. Or perhaps leopard skin laptop. Taking a cue from the consumer electronics business, PC makers are looking to doll up the dull boxes that most people associate with a personal computer. Companies such as Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ), as well as microprocessor companies Intel ( INTC) and Advanced Micro Devices ( AMD), are taking steps to introduce notebooks that are as much fashion statements as they are tools of productivity. In addition, Dell's ( DELL) recent acquisition of Alienware, which sells PCs in unique colors and unconventional shapes, should pave the way for industrial design and fashion to play a more prominent role in the computer industry. While these hip-looking PCs may earn style points among the aesthetically inclined, their biggest impact could be on the financial side of the business. For a PC industry struggling to find new ways to grow, a little style could go a long way toward altering consumers' buying habits. According to Rich Black, marketing director at notebook maker Acer, innovative industrial design and style play an increasingly important role in consumer purchasing decisions. "As people are starting to become more and more mobile with their computing devices, they want something that looks a little different than what the guy next to them has," says Black. Acer introduced a special Ferrari-branded notebook a few years ago and has recently started to incorporate elements from that model, like carbon-fiber material, into its mainstream line of notebooks. The value of pumping out a steady stream of slick new product designs has been proven in the cell-phone business. New phone styles are one of the two main factors that prompt people to replace their cell phones (the other being new functionality), says Hugues de la Vergne, an analyst at industry research firm Gartner. "To a certain segment of the population having the latest, must-have phone is important and will cause them to upgrade," says de la Vergne, pointing to the popularity of Motorola's ( MOT) Razr phone as an example.