Friday, March 09, 2007

'Think different' about design

Much has been written about the role design plays in Apple products – including a recent book about the iPod that's worth reading (The Perfect Thing, by Steven Levy of Newsweek). Pretty, pleasing products that work intuitively are a good thing.

What people often overlook is the fact that Apple's emphasis on design isn't something that's added on; it's a fundamental ingredient in everything the company does, most obviously with products (like the iPod) but also process (like the legendary Steve Jobs presentations at MacWorld) or even, it turns out, the way the Apple retail stores work.

An intriguing little article from Fortune explains specifically how store design has contributed to the unlikely, extraordinary success of Apple Stores – which generate almost twice as much profit-per-square-foot as Tiffanys. Wow.

Business Week, stock analysts and retail experts all predicted disaster when Apple said it was starting retail stores. ("It's desperation time in Cupertino," said But the company believed its world was shifting (sound familiar?) and it needed a new approach. Says Jobs:

"I started to get scared," says Jobs. Looking angularly trim in his trademark mock turtleneck and jeans (shopping, one is reminded, has never been integral to his lifestyle), Jobs is describing what he saw circa 2000. The company was increasingly dependent on mega-retailers - companies that had little incentive, never mind training, to position Apple's products as anything unique. "It was like, 'We have to do something, or we're going to be a victim of the plate tectonics. And we have to think different about this. We have to innovate here.'"

We need that kind of attitude. The "plate tectonics" of our business are shifting at least as radically as for they were for Apple, and we have to "think different" as well. (I love that ad: see below). Singular, maniacal focus on design – real design, meaning the way people use our products – is a great start.

(Disclosure: yes, I'm a longtime Apple fan; I got my first Mac for Christmas in 1985 and never looked back.)

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