The Apple Product Design
When it comes to design of smartphones, tablets and other similar products, one of the first names that will immediately come to mind is Apple. Indeed, it would appear that the brand name has become synonymous to premium product design and quality, and for good reason, too. After all, no one can dispute how Steve Jobs made sure that Apple, with its ambitious and innovative industrial-design team, became a trailblazer when it comes to consumer electronics’ design. If you were to ask what sets Apple products above its competitors, the answer would be “design”.
Case in point: Apple products have now become icons and even symbols of popular culture. They even went on to win design awards and recognition and, as if that’s not enough, Apple products’ designs have “inspired” other manufacturing companies to come up with their own consumer electronics products hoping, but not all of them succeeding, to duplicate the offerings of the Apple products being copied.
The design philosophy of Apple can be traced to one person: Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple and the brilliant mind responsible for the products that, to this day, remain icons and have opened doors for other technologies.
In this article, we share 1) Steve Jobs’ insights on design and 2) the Apple product design principles.
STEVE JOBS ON DESIGN
Steve Jobs was a perfectionist. He did not want a good design; he wanted a great one. And he got it.
Just like other inventors and pioneers, Steve Jobs may have encountered more than his fair share of stumbling blocks when he first started Apple and was thinking about products that would get the interest of the buying public and actually convince them to spend their money. But, once he found his groove, Jobs proved to be unstoppable.
Throughout his journey, Jobs has learned several lessons on design that proved to be valuable when he and his team were working on the latest product to offer to the public.
Craft in a way that makes a lasting impression
Aesthetic mattered a lot to Jobs. So what if that Apple logo unobtrusively etched finely on the bottom of the computer is not something that can be seen often? The great attention to detail that Apple puts into its products – yes, even the tiniest detail – is proof of how much time the design team devotes in every single aspect of the product design.
Crafting of Apple products is done inside and out, with no stones left unturned, so to speak. From the circuit boards to the elegant finish, nothing is left to chance. In the Steve Jobs bio written by Walter Isaacson, Jobs touched on this ideal, relating a lesson he learned from his father about a carpenter who is making an elegant chest of drawers. The carpenter knows better than to use plain and cheap plywood on the back of the chest, for the simple reason that no one is going to see it anyway. The carpenter will still know that the plywood is there.
In the context of Apple products, Jobs and his team will know that they did not pay much attention to the details and did not craft the product properly, even if the users do not. Fortunately, this is not an outlook that Apple cultivates, as it devotes its design efforts to ensure that quality is integrated on all sides. So what if the design team has to spend hundreds, thousands, of hours on a single design aspect? These things should not – and must not – be done halfheartedly.
Connect with the customer
This abstract talks about the role of customer behavior in relation with product design. Empathy, or establishing an intimate connection with the customers and, in the process, gaining deeper understanding of what they feel, what they want, and what they need, is vital in the design process. Apple takes this seriously, with the conviction that it understands its users’ needs better than any other manufacturer or similar company out there.
Companies such as Panasonic and Sony are known to make products without putting the customers at the center. It is either the customers will buy them or not. Apple, on the other hand, made sure that it understood what the customers wanted. Not the actual product per se, but the features or conveniences that they are looking for. They integrated those feelings, desires or needs into the product design and, once they released the finished product, the customers will finally realize that they need that specific Apple product.
Focus on what you are doing
While designing, it is easy to get distracted by other opportunities that may or may be unrelated to the product being worked on. Jobs ensures that, once they have decided to work on something, they will devote 100% of their attention to that product or project. Everything else will fall by the wayside, either ignored or simply left to be picked up at a later date, most likely when the product being worked on has been finished.
Jobs was known as a taskmaster, bringing focus and discipline to his product teams. In his mind, he already knew what product will result – what it looks like and what it can do – and he refused to be swayed by any deviation, in any way or form. This meant there was a clear road, a clear path, to follow.
Impute the desired qualities
This pertains to the presentation of the design. Have you ever wondered why there are so few extraordinary designs compared to those that are so-so or do not make sense at all? The logical conclusion that most people would arrive at is that there aren’t simply enough good designs. That may not be entirely true, since it is also highly probable that there are actually a lot of excellent designs out there; they just are not given the attention that they are due.
And why is that? Most likely, it is due to poor presentation by the designers and makers of the product. Do not forget that consumers are heavily influenced by first impressions. For many, one look at a new product is enough to make them decide whether it is worth their time – and money – or not. Thus, it is important to present the product creatively, yet still in a professional and credible manner. By doing so, you will be able to drive home the good points of the product and reiterate among your customers why they need the product: because the product has the qualities that they need or are looking for.
Technology has a tendency to strike terror and fear in the hearts of users. It looks so advanced, so it must be difficult to learn, much less navigate, right? Jobs and his team squashed that notion by ensuring that their product design leans heavily on making high-tech devices easy to use.
This “friendly” feature is not just on the function of the product, but also on how it looks. Yes, Jobs was particular on a product that looks friendly and wholesome, instead of intimidating.
More than anything, Jobs wanted Apple products to be simple and easy to use, and not just look like they are simple and easy to use. This is seen in how the Apple user interfaces are made to be intuitive. Users, too, need not undergo education and re-education, as the case may be, on several of the technologies, in order to operate or use the products. After all, the products are designed in a manner that is already understood by users.
THE APPLE PRODUCT DESIGN
It is so easy to say that a company puts heavy emphasis on product quality. Product quality was never really in question when it came to Apple, but what of its design? What is it about the Apple design that makes it a cut above the rest? Let’s take a look at some of its defining traits.
Simplicity and minimalistic
When it comes to UI, Apple products have some of the friendliest and simplest out there. This is in acknowledgement of the fact that complex designs tend to overwhelm users, especially those who are relatively new to technology. By making the product look simple – and actually be simple – users are able to easily get over these fears and apprehensions.
The intuitive nature of the Apple UI is one of the main reasons why it commands such loyalty from users, even when the price tag remains steep. At first, many were suspicious about a high-tech product that is simple. It just does not seem feasible. When Apple launched the products, it made the critics eat their words, and turned them into fans and loyal Apple users.
Keeping things simple also means knowing when to omit some features. Sometimes, consumer electronics manufacturers get a little in over their heads when the pack as much features as they can in their products, on the pretext of having more to offer users. The result is a highly complicated contraption that ends up becoming a headache.
Clean, friendly and fun. These are only three of the many adjectives that aptly describe the Apple design aesthetic. Try walking down a crowded street and check out what smartphones are being used by the people you meet. For sure, you will easily spot the unmistakable design of the iPhone, regardless of what version it is. And you do not even have to see the Apple logo to be sure about it.
Apple products have a distinctive look that is credited hugely to what Jobs and his team started. This is actually very commendable since, for the longest time, simple has always been equated with plain and boring. Apple has successfully combined the two: simple products that look unique and distinct, without sacrificing functionality.
Attention to detail
Apple incorporates precision in its design. Every groove, every curve, every varying degree of rounded corners… there is a reason behind them. And Apple does not try to cut corners by using cheaper alternatives for materials, either.
By working closely with manufacturers, Apple is able to keep a tight rein on its quality control. It knows exactly what is going into the production process, and it is able to prevent cheap and subpar materials from entering the process and becoming part of the finished product. Similarly, it always keeps its eyes peeled on new manufacturing practices and innovations that will prove to be beneficial to Apple (read: maintain or enhance product quality further). For example, the iPod and several older versions of the iMac featured layers of different-colored plastic material. This was made possible when Apple found a manufacturer that was able to perform this method – called “double-shot” method – and they worked together with that manufacturer to refine the process and apply it into the production of the iPod.
This is part of the reason why Apple products are more expensive than others: they do not skimp on the materials used. While other manufacturers may seek alternatives such as plastic or metal substitutes – just because they are simpler to work with and cheaper to finance and sell – Apple stands by its design ideals.
Well-structured product design process
It’s easy to say that what makes a product design is the idea itself. However, many overlook the actual design process. This is not a mistake that Apple makes, though, since it boasts a design method that can only be described as “well-structured”. Indeed, the design process is a “process”, and implemented as such.
There is also a sense of intimacy in how the product design teams work within Apple. A design team only has around 12 to 20 people, and this limit is advantageous in terms of keeping the team focused. It is definitely much harder to manage a team with a lot of people, since there will be a lot of ideas flying around, no matter how tough of a taskmaster the team leader is.
There is also the fact that the design process is not a standalone division within the company. There is a need to factor in how the design process will ultimately impact, or relate to, other aspects of the business, such as the production process, the engineers, marketing and sales and distribution. By keeping the team small, the design process will be much more manageable.
Apple also has the following tips in order to have a great design for your product.
- Quality above all: Do not just focus on the packaging, or the number of features you packed into your product. The most important question is: does the product work according to users’ expectations? Do they deliver the functions that users are looking for? Apple puts emphasis on the overall customer experience; customer service, after-sales support, and even retail sales service. However, all that would be for nothing when the product design itself is of low quality. This also includes making sure you use high quality materials on the product.
- Be flexible when it comes to change: This is apparent in how Apple is willing to put its products through successive design iterations, doing away with the old to make way for the new. Change is constant, and it is even more fast-paced when it comes to technology. In order to ensure that your product design is abreast of the changing times and climes, you have to embrace them as they come, and integrate them into your design process.
- If you could, stay ahead of the pack: Apple has the advantage of being in control of both hardware and software, and its own technologies. This means that it is able to deliver products that are timely and will be compatible with the latest and newest technologies in the market. This level of control pretty much gives you a lot of freedom when working on product designs over time.
- Be innovative: What can you offer in your product that no one has ever done yet? Aim to be a pioneer. That’s what Steve Jobs did, and look where Apple is right now.
- Take your time: Rushing the product design stage proved to be more of a pitfall than a success point for many manufacturers. Many have gone this route, particularly those who are aiming for a specific release date for their product. More often than not, this results to “half-baked” products. Apple spends a considerable length of time in the design stage of its product development, and this was another philosophy passed down by Steve Jobs.
- Don’t be afraid to take risks: Nothing is a sure thing. Even Apple knows this. With every product it designs and plans to introduce to the market, it is taking a risk. It’s making a gamble that may or may not pay off. But it should not be done recklessly, either. Take risks, as long as you have all your bases covered, and you have conducted all the necessary feasibility and viability studies.
- Understand the product: Just because you are tasked to work on the design does not mean that you should focus solely on it. You have to understand the materials used, the processes involved, and the nitty-gritty of the product. Only then will you have greater confidence when working on the final product design.
- Get help: Asking for inputs is one way to know whether you are on the right track or not. And who better to get input from than your potential users or customers? You can also get valuable input from other professionals, such as engineers, marketers, designers, and even manufacturers.
Without doubt, the company stops at nothing to ensure that its customers get nothing but the very best. From the design all the way to the production and marketing, nothing is left to chance. This explains the high levels of success enjoyed by the company.