Yeah, the thinkpad design hasn't really changed since they came out. I was a little surprised when I saw that they still had the rubber mouse nub in the middle of the keyboard.
The only other laptop manufacturer I have experience with is HP, but I don't know about the quality of their lower end laptops. If you are looking for a good design, I suggest checking out their Pavilion line of notebooks.
If you are willing to look at "uglier laptops" like the Thinkpad you should look at the Thinkpads suggested above, Dell's and HP's business line (Dell Vostro's, Latitudes, etc.). If you want something to last forever these will be good, but they are lacking in the design department.
Better designs with good build quality would mean looking at Asus - all around they have typically great quality. (And usually 1yr accidental warranty + 2year manufacturer warranty included)