There’s more to Design than Apple

4th August 2009
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A web designer's dream desk

For the past half decade or so, Apple has been the design darling. It can do no wrong, if its soaring profits and popular product lines are anything to go by – iPod and iPhone are the key products in this resurgence. Before them, Apple was a stagnant, $25/share company with no direction.

Every graphic, interaction and user experience designer I know raves about and constantly talks about Apple’s designs as a standard that must be reached. Captains of industry look to Apple as a model for financial success. Shopping carts and even entire websites are converting to that clean, all-white Apple look with rounded corners.

But Apple isn’t the only good design around, and I’m seeing the backlash all over the web. Design Observer, in particular, has a lot to say about it, and I think they say it the best. “Dancing to the Sound in your Head” (about the proliferation of Apple’s advertising). Read this if only to remind yourself that Apple isn’t “all good”.
Design Observer helps brings things into perspective with this article, “What If Apple Is Bad for Design?” I’ll cut to the crux of this article because it makes a good point:

“Perhaps Apple’s problem is to be found at the site of its greatest seeming success: that intersection between hardware and software…Or to put it another way, if you round too many corners, you lose your edge.”

Cooper.com blogger Dave Cronin has a bone to pick with the iPhone as well – he says Dear Mr. Jobs, the iPhone has lots of little interaction design quirks that need to be fixed.

Apple design is really well done, and it leaves nothing to chance – but are they sacrificing real design for the comfort of perfect circles? And, more importantly, is this their fault? High consumer demand for a product makes that product evolve, and this happens till the product either dies or becomes something new entirely (see the Volkswagen Bug to Beetle story arc – from slightly oval to incredibly oval in 30 years).

An engineer friend of mine said a few years ago, “All cars will one day all look like eggs”. It’s a natural design tendency to streamline till there’s no shape left.

For example, sharks haven’t changed much since the time of the dinosaurs. Their design is perfect for their function. I think this is what’s happening to apple’s designs, only they must cut through the clutter of human perception rather than the coefficient of drag found in the ocean.

You can see it in the progression from the G3 Tower to the G5. The former, resplendent in aqua and the apple logo; bright plastic (albeit with rounded corners). The latter, all utility and sleek, brushed aluminum simplicity (all corners as rounded as metal can be without causing a crease).

As a designer, my goal is to design for a particular user, not for everyone. Maybe this is the place where Apple’s getting it wrong? Pleasing everyone and, therefore, eventually, pleasing no one?

Let’s not be afraid to create some drag, some friction, for the sake of innovation. I don’t want everything to turn out “egg-shaped”.

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Nathaniel Flick

I'm a Front End Web Developer passionate about usability. My primary specialties are HTML5, CSS3, SCSS, LESS, and jQuery and I am very familiar with Foundation and Bootstrap frameworks. I've worked on top of and with Rails, Python, and ASP.net/Umbraco back end frameworks.