The power of design

Welcome to the wedding-free zone…

Two news items yesterday told an interesting story. The Guardian newspaper (and others) reported that, for the first time in many years, the IT company Apple reported higher revenues and profits than Microsoft, thereby bringing to an end an era in which, at first, Apple was thought to be dying and Microsoft was thought to be so dominant that its power eclipsed that of many countries. Now Microsoft is stagnating, while Apple is the company that appears to be unable to do anything wrong in business terms.

Also yesterday, there were reports all over the world of customers queuing in extraordinary numbers to buy the newly released white iPhone 4. In Hong Kong all available supplies had been sold within hours. The extraordinary aspect of this news item is that the white iPhone does absolutely nothing that its non-white counterpart (which has been on sale for nearly a year) cannot do – and yet hordes of people, many of whom already own the iPhone 4, are buying it; and are doing so despite that fact that insiders believe the iPhone 5 will be launched later this year.

In fact, it is likely that many iPhone customers are standing in line not because the handset is technologically superior to what is offered by the competition, but because of its aesthetic appeal. It just looks good. It feels right. And according to this report, some customers believe it makes them appear younger and more attractive. Apparently.

So what’s all this then? Is this the world gone mad, sacrificing substance to superficiality? No, I don’t think so. Design and appearance matter to humans, on the whole. We appreciate art; we are influenced by style and fashion. Commercial design that engages these instincts, as Apple has been so good at showing, triggers something that goes beyond appreciation of technological discovery. When the two are combined, however, the result is powerful. Apple’s rise and rise has been due to the way in which Steve Jobs and his team have understood this and harnessed its potential. It is an interesting story.

I’ll bet that when the in-crowd in Westminster Abbey switch their phones to silent, a majority will be handling iPhones. Oh wait, I wasn’t going to mention that.

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9 Comments on “The power of design”


  1. […] original here: The power of design Tagged with: apple • first-time • guardian • microsoft • news-items […]

  2. Jo McCafferty Says:

    I have always been averse to joining the herd, and at the moment have an HTC Touch Pro 2 (with real keyboard). However, as iPhone and associated apps grows and grows I am now seeing a time where I will have to convert over, as Windows Mobile essentially “sucks” in comparison. It’s not compatible with my friend’s/Colleague’s apps and therefore it’s lost it’s usefulness somewhat. I’m not going without a fight however. When iPhone mark? comes out, complete with physical keyboard, then it will be time for me to have another look at them.
    I know it’s old fashioned but, given I spend a lot of time typing on it, why shouldn’t I have what I like? Equally, if people want to rush out and buy a different colour of phone, that’s their lookout I think. If they have the money, why not?

  3. anna notaro Says:

    Apple has been successfull because it has combined aesthetics with functionality, what the Greeks called techne (craftmanship) with beauty. Such conceptual dualities which originated in the classic world are still very much alive today and resurface in endless debates (not least as far as universities and knowledge are concerned) about the vocational, i.e. utilitarian as opposed to the value of knowledge per se. Things get particularly fascinating when the aesthetic and the functional come together, the crucial issue then is: how the two types of value relate to each other? Again the classic world tried to find an answer well before Functionalism in its various applications came of age (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Functionalism)
    In Xenophon’s Symposium, Critoboulus says that he can distinguish a beautiful object.

    CRITOBOULUS: I know, at any rate, that a shield is beautiful, as well as a sword and a spear.

    SOCRATES: And how is it that, although none of these is similar to the other, they are all beautiful?

    CRITOBOULUS: If, by Zeus, they’ve all been wrought with a view to the tasks for which we acquire them, or if they’ve been well adapted by nature with a view to the things we need, then these are beautiful.
    A few centuries later the American architect Louis Sullivan famously proclaimed that “form always follows function” .

    In the high tech world of the 21st century the functionalist lesson is still relevant and well supported by the ‘art’ of branding (the report about the white iPhone mentioned in the post comes from the ‘Cult of Mac’ web site whose only purpose is to spread the buzz and reinfornce the ‘cult’, appropriately enough). The touch screen technology that Apple has so succesfully employed for its iPhone has been around for decades and still in Apple’s hands (pun intended) it has become something magic, Apple has exploited the ‘power of touch’ a typical human prerogative albeit implicit in the digital technologies (digit means finger from Latin)and brought what was previously a niche, specialist and expensive technology to a wider audience. The magic of Hollywood is now in our pockets, at our finger tips. But then we all like (Hollywood)stories, fairy tales, one is just about to be screened to a global audience, it has to do with a prince and a princess…well at least it all started in Scotland🙂

  4. Ian Johnson Says:

    It isn’t just design. It’s also marketing skills that create the ‘must have’ mentality.

    Sony’s video recording system (VHS) was technologically the poorest of the systhems that were invented – but Sony’s marketing was stronger.

  5. Vincent Says:

    😀 Do you not think there is an aspect of insanity about both the phone thingy and watching that pair wed.

  6. Ernie Ball Says:

    “We appreciate art; we are influenced by style and fashion.”

    Which is why we can no longer afford Art History or Classics departments. After all, we live in a new era of accountability….

  7. david.henderson@rgu.ac.uk Says:

    Readers of this post may also find the following lecture by Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action of interest.

    David

  8. jfryar Says:

    Well, I disagree to a certain extent. Are the iphones THAT well designed? It would seem you’ve overlooked the well publicised iphone 4 issues of yellowing screens, easily broken screens, signal loss and problems with usb connections (all documented on the t3.com site). Apple built an ipad with no usb or sd card connections – something they rectified with subsequent versions. And let’s not forget the latest scandal surrounding storage of user location data.

    That’s not to say Apple products aren’t cool – they are. But I think the pleasure of using an Apple product isn’t it’s external aesthetics but its software interface.


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