How Apple Revolutionized the Field of New Product Design

blog12-in-articleThere’s no denying that Apple is considered a world leader in the world of new product design. The mod simplicity of the brand’s design philosophy and the intuitive, integrative user experience they offer only go so far to explain why Apple consistently hits it out of the park when it comes to its product releases.

To understand the mass appeal of its products, you need to go deeper into the company’s design process. The company that gave us the iPod, the iPhone and other technology must-haves operates the Apple Industrial Design studio, a small and secretive group of creatives who are responsible for conceiving and developing the next generation of Apple products. How they work is a big factor in Apple’s dominance.


Apple Started by Prioritizing Design

That led to great things. From the start, Apple’s process was different. In the early 80s, Steve Jobs put a lot of thought into choosing a design partner – ultimately opting to work with Hartmut Esslinger of Frog Design. Together, they developed a one-of-a-kind design language that would form the basis of not only the Apple aesthetic, but also the user experience.

That language encompassed every aspect of a product, down to the millimeter, and because Apple’s design requirements were incredibly precise, they couldn’t simply hand off new designs to manufacturers and call it a day. Consequently, Apple dove into the manufacturing process, asking factories to rise to the challenge of meeting their exact needs versus adapting their product designs to existing processes.  

Today, the company continues to take an interest in how things are manufactured and in new manufacturing techniques while remaining true to its design roots. The end result is that Apple is able to access and support up-to-the-minute manufacturing technologies without compromising the now iconic look and feel of its evolving product line. And its customers get innovative technology in a familiar, comfortable package.

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What You Can Learn from Apple

Chances are you’ll never set foot in the brand’s Industrial Design studio, but the secrets of Apple’s success are not so shrouded in mystery. Here are ten commandments of great product design that Apple brings to every new product – along with how you can apply them:

Quality counts: Apple designer Jony Ive told the Telegraph, “It’s sad and frustrating that we are surrounded by products that seem to testify to a complete lack of care.” Vow not to create another of those products.

Change: On first view, there’s nothing of Apple’s original iMac in today’s iteration. Ditto for the original iPod, which gave way to the iPhone, which may soon give way to the Apple Watch. Don’t let success make you too comfortable.

Innovation: Apple has consistently launched products and features in the right place at the right time but not always first – and that’s by design. Identify what people need and bring the best solution to market.

Exclusivity: When it comes to technology, Apple is very much a closed system. It owns the software driving its products featuring its own designs. Don’t assume you need to contract out this or that aspect of development.

Invention: Ive told Wired, “If you are truly innovating, you don’t have a prototype you can refer to.” Do more outside of the box thinking when designing.

Failure: Apple takes risks in design and manufacture and those risks don’t always pan out, but failure of a product doesn’t negate the value of the process. Embrace failure by learning from mistakes.

Understanding: From the beginning, Apple made a point of delving into the manufacturing process to better understand the methods and materials that would be necessary to make its unique designs reality. Always be open to learning something new.

Simplicity: One of the reasons Apple is so successful is that it takes complex technology and makes it simple for end users. Ask yourself how you can do the same.

Consistency: Apple’s brand identity is rock solid – no one has trouble picking an Apple product out of a lineup. Look for opportunities to create an identifiable personality with your designs.

Support: Take a cue from the reliability of Apple’s support arm and be there to help once products hit the market. You’ll be surprised what you learn!


The Takeaway Is Consider Everything

Apple’s approach to new product development is all encompassing. The time, energy and thought they put into design is only one piece of the puzzle. The brand clearly considers the packaging, product launch, in store experience and after-purchase experience to be an integral part of development – so much so that employees will open hundreds of boxes before a launch simply to refine the customer’s unboxing experience.

What can you learn from that? When you’re creating a roadmap for product design and development all the way up to launch and beyond, list every significant milestone instead of just the obvious ones. Think up new milestones related to quality and consistency. You may not have the limitless budget of the designers at Apple’s Industrial Design studio or an established design bible to guide you, but by adopting their philosophy you can take charge of the experience in a way that produces a better product.

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Jarrod Barker
About the Author
Jarrod Barker
Jarrod has a keen interest in technology development and operations. He has an honours degree in Mechanical Engineering and his industry experience spans product design, sports technology, medical device engineering and power generation. He has worked for a leading design consultancy in Cambridge, UK and now runs the Outerspace branch in San Diego USA.

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