By: Ryan Ayers
It’s pretty much impossible to argue with Apple’s success. It’s one of the most valuable companies in the world, and has maintained dominance for its reputation as an innovative company that produces top-of-the-line hardware. Because of its products and brand reputation, Apple has gained a cult following that will buy nearly every new product that emerges, year after year. So why, even with the high price tag, are so many consumers willing to shell out for every new gadget that comes along?
While the quality and durability of the products do play a role, that theory doesn’t align with the trend of upgrading every year or two. Combined with the overall quality of the product and the brand’s image, Apple’s innovative designs are an important factor in the company’s success. Let’s take a look at why looks matter so much to this tech giant.
The Aesthetic Factor
There’s a lot of good-looking hardware out there, but most people agree that Apple has most of the competition beat—and has often been the inspiration for other manufacturers. Its sleek and simple designs are impressively minimalist, while staying high-quality and highly functional. Everything from chargers to earbuds is carefully designed to look good while doing its job—and the company manages to do this by limiting and perfecting the products it offers before release.
Independence Allows for Design Control
One of the factors that has always set Apple apart from other computer manufacturers has been its independence. It creates all the hardware it needs, rather than buying different parts from independent manufacturers. This allows the company to be free of the limitations imposed by third party hardware that might influence design—and it allows Apple to maintain control of how everything looks and functions. This is an appealing idea—it’s why bitcoin started after all. Bitcoin isn’t dependent on banks or governments, allowing it to stay independent, without its value tied to a competitor. This consistency and control is just one of the reasons Apple has stayed so profitable over the years.
Everything that Apple produces is branded. It’s all created to maintain consistency and simplicity across devices, whether it’s the iPhone, iPad, or MacBook. The operating systems support the aesthetic by making the icons, dock, and other design features colorful and design-minded. This consistency in branding helps people get comfortable with the hardware quickly and encourage loyalty—a tactic that has worked and grown into an incredible following worldwide. The aesthetics of the products embody Apple and its values—reinforcing trust and acting as a status symbol for buyers.
Designing for Pain Points
Though it may seem like a small aesthetic decision, many of Apples designs emphasize a streamlined button system. The beauty of the products is in this simplicity, and customers get the signal that it’s a sleek and minimalist product that anyone can learn to use quickly. It’s also a sharp contrast to the polar opposite of the industry—gaming laptops and mice with lots of different buttons that are targeted to another demographic altogether.
Keeping the design simple doesn’t prevent Apple from working to solve their customers’ pain points. Take the trackpad, for example. Nearly every other company uses a trackpad with a sensor pad plus one or more buttons. Apple streamlines the trackpad into a clickable sensor pad that’s more user-friendly and works well as a mouse substitute. The single button design of the iconic iPhone is similarly simple, yet functional—users are able to switch between tasks with ease.
Achieving the Impossible
Some of Apple’s greatest achievements have seemed almost impossible. The first iPhone. The MacBook Air, an engineering marvel. Apple has always dominated by doing what others couldn’t—and succeeding. The design process at the company can be lengthy, and the aesthetics of the next cutting-edge technology are as important as the hardware itself. Remember the first ads for the MacBook Air? The photos showed the computer fitting into a standard yellow envelope, showcasing the aesthetic genius of the product and relying on the company’s reputation for great hardware to do the rest.
Much of Apple’s success in the last few decades rode on founder Steve Jobs’ tireless innovation and dedication. Indeed, now that someone else is at the helm and the direction of the company has changed somewhat, stock prices have dropped, despite the continued popularity of the products. That’s not to say that Apple isn’t continuing in its grand tradition of aesthetic innovation, but it will need to continually acknowledge that innovation built the company, and must be maintained to ensure ongoing success. We can’t all be the next Steve Jobs, but maybe we can learn something from his approach: that form matters, but only when that form is also backed by substance.
By Ryan Ayers
About the author
Ryan Ayers has consulted a number of companies within multiple industries including information technology and big data. After earning his MBA in 2010, Ayers also began working with start-up companies and aspiring entrepreneurs, with a keen focus on data collection and analysis.