Is Apple a design company?
Like many others, I spent some time today looking over the suite of new and updated products from Apple. The new Mac Pro is cool, the new iOS look and feel was very, let’s call it, “new”, and the other stuff they shared was one, the other and often both at once.
I try not to bring up Apple too much in discussions with my clients, as most times I do, it’s dismissed. It seems many people in marketing and business don’t think the laws of the real world apply to the Cupertino based company and the enviable brand they’ve built - as if by magic Apple are able to play by a different set of rules.
I spend a fair bit of time thinking, reading, learning about and admiring Apple. I’m also using at least one and often a few of their products every waking hour of my day; from listening to music from my iPhone in my car driving to work, working on a Mac to reading on my iPad Mini before bed. I admire the company greatly. Most people roll their eyes when I say that, and I understand why; I sound like a fanboy, as if I’ve been seduced into the cult.
But what I admire about Apple is their culture - a way of thinking, working and making things that, as far as I can tell, has been indelibly marked by the force of will, personality and values of their charismatic founder, Steve Jobs. Steve was fond of saying in many of his keynotes that Apple sits at the intersection of the liberal arts and technology, and in a Forbes article he probably hit upon his most eloquent expression of the ideal;
“It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough – it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”
It wasn’t until today I realised Steve wasn’t just talking about Apple - the above metaphor, of an intersection of liberal arts and technology, is the perfect expression of what design is. The different disciplines of design are distinguished along technocratic lines - architects and interior designers understand a mullion from a spandrel, industrial designers learn the myriad tolerances of different materials, web designers know PHP from CSS, and graphic designers know all sorts of stuff like how to export a PDF.
Technological differences define and separates design disciplines, be they the productivity software we use, our technical jargon, the production or construction methods. But all design disciplines can speak the language of less is more, of balance and form, of composition. We can all admire and appreciate each other’s output, we all have a favourite painter, illustrator or photographer. From my experience, most people in the design industries are socially progressive, politically aware and have read a book or two.
Often in my work I try to distill a ‘brand idea’ - a snappy two or three word expression of the core idea that underpins a business, the products they put out to the world, what they value, their culture and heritage.
Probably seems obvious - Apple is, at it’s core, a design company, free from clients and budgets. A design company where perfection is the only goal and how much your work changes the world is the true measure of success. Today I realised, again, why I love Apple so much - they’re the perfect design company; they have colleagues not clients, incredibly high standards, and a huge impact in making people’s live better - which sounds to me like any designer’s dream job.