I was having a think this morning as I walked the kid to school, what Dieter Rams said in the documentary ‘Objectified’, that Apple was the only modern company that ‘gets design’.
The more I think about it, the more I disagree with this premise. I think they ‘get design’ in terms of it being ‘of the masses’, with design that is appropriate to their new found position as tech market leader, with design that supports the software, but I think their leadership comes from the clout that they have in the market, not through any amazing or cutting edge design, nor even fully engaging design. It’s design for themselves, not the user.
I believe you could almost argue that Apple is not interested in design anymore, that they’re now an engineering firm designing reductionist, simplistic products only really there to integrate as seamlessly as possible with the software, with just enough seeming ingenious tactilty to make the majority of users go “Oh look, I’m swiping with a finger!”. If anything, Apple points to the middle ground of the ‘now’, and not to any futuristic, humanistic place of the future. In fact, Apple products have more to do with hi-fi from the 70’s than anything from tomorrow.
See, to me, the MacBook Pro I’m sitting in front of seems like an evolution of that. And even more ironically perhaps, if you Google ‘future computer’, you invariably also end up with pages and pages of slim square Aluminium boxes –
I had no idea the future came from 1978!
It’s the same with the iPhone. From a humanistic, ergonomic and tactility perspective, the iPhone 3 trumps the 4 and 5 in a major way. In ‘Objectified’, both Jonathan Ives and Karim Rashid I believe commented about how the internal structure of a devise dictates it’s exterior. The example Rashid used was the camera, and he was confounded by the fact that in the past, camera design was dictated by the size and shape of the film, but now that we have lost the film, the camera shape has stayed the same.
I would argue that for devises that are handled and used, that it’s equally if not more important to design ‘from the outside in’. I find that designing from the ‘inside out’ is a very engineering based thought pattern, whereas from the outside in’ is more of a design based one. Design the device around the person, not the other way around. The issue with this of course, is that pesky ergonomics and tactile response for Apple gets in the way of the cohesiveness of their product matrix. If the iMac is an Aluminium box, and the MacBook is an Aluminium box, then certainly the iPhone had little chance of remaining – and expanding upon being – an ergononic user-centred piece of design. User experience lessened at the expense of product range cohesiveness.
But is this bad design? From a user experience perspective you could possibly argue ‘yes’, but what Apple has done is bank on the ‘Erotech-ness’ of this cohesion and used the interaction with the software as the primary emotive hooks for the product. It’s not so much the hardware, as the everyday interaction with texting and emails and Facebooking that allows the user to overlook the annoying quibbles that come with handling and pocketing a glass and stainless steel rectangle. Apple is banking on the user experience of the software / UI displacing that of the use of the product itself. A triumph of marketing the product matrix at the expense of the ideal user experience, but if sales are anything to go by, it’s apparently a small price to pay in pursuit of brand cohesion.
Still, I wish I had 5 bucks for everytime my phone slid off what seemed like a level surface and ended on the floor, so I could repair the hole it made in the pocket of these pants.