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Rounded Corners & Aluminum Won't Turn You Into Apple

When we ask clients about their design goals we frequently hear, “We want to be like Apple.” And while the overused Apple example has become cringe-worthy to us designers, it's still a valid wish because well... who wouldn't want Apple's enormous success?

Apple has become one of the most memorable case studies of industrial design done right. In fact, saying "what Steve Jobs did for the iPhone" is one of the only ways I've been able to effectively explain to outsiders what Industrial Design is and why it's so valuable.

As the market leader and subsequently the go-to consumer electronics brand, Apple reaps the rewards of high product demand, customer loyalty (raving fans, really), tremendous product sales... the list goes on and on.

We too want you to be the next Apple, but not a delusional Apple. Apple’s enormous success didn't stem (pun intended) from its beautiful aesthetic. Its success is rooted much much deeper in investments they’ve deliberately made to lay the foundation for what you see today.

When you say you want to be like Apple, you mean you want the success Apple has, right? To achieve their success, you too will have to make your products irresistible. I hate to break it to you but aluminum and rounded corners won't be enough to get you there.

Lucky for us, Apple has left us a treasure map of what led them here. Here is their marketing philosophy that they committed to back in 1977 (before Industrial design was cool).

If you want to harvest Apple's success, you'll need to plant the same seeds:

1. you must understand your customer better than anyone else does

Apple invested early on in gaining a deep understanding of their customer. By reaching a point where they understand their customers deeper than anyone else does, they have visibility to their customer's pain points, unmet needs, and desires that others lack. Innovations are rooted in insights drawn directly from the customer's perspective. Apple knew that if they could know (and then advocate for) their customer better than any other company, they'd have a chance to act on insights that other companies couldn't see.

Start with clearly defining who your customer is... no, it's not "everybody."

Once you have your clear target customer in mind, what will you do to get to know them, empathize with them, and continue to keep your finger on the pulse of what really matters to them?

2. your quality and aesthetic must be a level above the rest

Beyond the banter of the classic Android/Apple rivalry, can you think of any complaints in regards to the quality and craftsmanship of Apple products? I can't.

As soon as your product isn't the leader in quality, your customers will ditch you for a more dependable, seamless product. If your product's aesthetic doesn't grab and hold attention, you'll miss out on your chance to demonstrate its quality.

Have you pushed your product to deliver stand-out quality and aesthetics? If not, what can you do to resolve its shortcomings?

3. without focus, you'll be like everyone else, not apple

Just as their philosophy states, Apple narrowed in and not only focused but also applied their efforts with intense discipline and consistency.

Apple showed great humility in understanding their customer and market and then committed to the risk of going all-in on their bets. Apple didn't get lucky, they worked extremely hard until all of the pieces fit together.

Where does your focus lie? Are you investing in the long game, or are you distracted by short term opportunities?

In Warren Buffet's 5-Step Process for Prioritizing True Success, he says to make a list of your top 25 goals and then circle the 5 most important.

Buffet states, "Everything you didn't circle just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you've succeeded with your top 5." Those other 20 goals will prove to be your biggest distractions if you let them.

4. the world doesn't need another apple, but it does need you

The world doesn't need another Apple, because we already have it. What people do want is irresistible products in other industries that offer them a no-brainer best-in-class option. Ironically, to be like Apple, you'll need to be an amplified you.

Lay a foundation of deep customer understanding, unparalleled quality, flawless craftsmanship, and then pursue your select goals with insane focus.

How can you more authentically innovate around your target customer within your industry?

If you think that encasing your product in aluminum and rounding its corners is going to turn you into Apple, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Apple’s design strategy is rooted so much deeper than its aesthetic. If you want the success of Apple, what seeds are you going to plant to make your products irresistible?


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