Apple’s Design: The Gift That Keeps Giving (2 of 2)

This is part 2 of a 2-part article. Part 1 can be found here.


Market Research gives the customer what they ask for. It’s like giving a gift from a list. Great design is like great gift giving. Rather than giving the recipient what they ask for, great Design gives them an un-asked for gift that both surprises and delights.

The Up Side Of Design

Market research is great at iteration.
Design is great at creation.

Market Research gives us the products and services that we ask for.
Design gives us products and services that surprise and delight.

Market Research meets our expectations.
Design exceeds our expectations.

Market Research listens to us.
Design understands us.

Market Research gives us what we want.
Design gives us what we love.

The Hard Side Of Design

If Design is so great, why doesn’t everyone do it?

Everyone doesn’t do Design for the same reason that everyone doesn’t give unasked for gifts:

1) It’s a lot harder; and
2) It’s a lot riskier.

Giving a gift from a list is easy.

Giving a gift that it truly meaningful requires intimate knowledge of the gift-receiver and often requires not only a great deal of thought, but a great deal of effort, as well. Further, it requires a degree of empathy that, frankly, many of us simply do not have. If we oft-times don’t understand what we want for ourselves, how ever are we going to get it right when we try to understand the unstated wants of others?

Think how hard it is for you to anticipate the needs of your family and loved ones. Now think how much harder it must be for Apple to anticipate the needs of their customers.

(O)bserving the way people really live, developing a deep understanding of the real problems they have, and gaining an appreciation of the “hacks” they devise to overcome them can deliver an understanding of prospective customers’ needs that is more accurate than what any of those prospective customers could ever articulate on their own. ~ Ben Thompson, Stretechery

And the reward for taking all that extra time, giving all that extra thought, and making all that extra effort is often abject failure. Great Design — like great gift giving — surprises us in all the right ways, but great Design, like all un-asked for gifts, also risks surprising us in all the wrong ways too.

Once we leave the safety of the gift giver’s list, we risk greatness…but we also court disaster. Gifts don’t go “good, better, best.” They go “good, dreadful, best.” The same is true of Design. We can’t risk giving or designing the best without the risk of the giving the truly dreadful. The moment you move from Market Research to Design is the moment you untether yourself from the wishes of your customers and move into the oh-so-nebulous realm of fulfilling the unforeseen desires of your customers.

Source: “Christmas Gifts And The Meaning Of Design” by Ben Thompson of Stratechery.

Du sublime au ridicule il n’y a qu’un pas. (From the sublime to the ridiculous there is but a step.) ~ Napoleon

Think about it. How many times have you received unasked for gifts that were just AWFUL. They were in poor taste. Or they tasted poor (the infamous Christmas fruitcake comes to mind). They were a waste. Or they didn’t fit your waist. They made no sense. Or they cost only cents. The white elephant that was soon hidden away in a trunk.

When the unasked for Design is done right, it resonates and touches us emotionally. When the unasked for Design is done wrong, it also touches us emotionally — but with all the wrong emotions. Poor attempts at Design evoke emotions such as revulsion, disgust, scorn, condescension and contempt. Good Design is loved. Bad design is derided and mocked.

To create good Design, you need more than an ability to anticipate the unstated needs of your customers. You need the courage of your convictions too. (See video interview of Steve Jobs, below, from the 11:50 to the 13:10 mark.)

Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not that one has better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on one’s ideas, to take a calculated risk — and to act. ~ Andre Malraux

The Risky Side Of Design

Bad decisions make good stories. ~ Unknown

The Microsoft Kin

Microsoft invested two years and about US$1 billion developing the Kin platform. The Kin ONE and TWO went on the market in May 2010. Within two months, Verizon stopped selling the phones because of poor sales. Microsoft scrapped its planned European release, stopped promoting the devices, ceased production, and reassigned the Kin development team to other projects. ~ Wikipedia

Bad design — like a bad gift — often just makes no sense whatsoever. You’re left shaking your head and wondering what the Designer could possibly have been thinking. Most of the time, they were thinking about themselves.

The HP TouchPad

The HP TouchPad is a tablet computer was developed and designed by Hewlett-Packard. The HP TouchPad was launched on July 1, 2011. On August 18, 2011, 49 days after the TouchPad was launched in the United States, Hewlett-Packard announced that it would discontinue all current hardware devices running webOS. Remaining TouchPad stock received substantial price reductions. ~ Wikipedia

I included the HP TouchPad in this list so I could trot out this quote from then HP CEO, Leo Apotheker:

I hope one day people will say ‘this is as cool as HP’, not ‘as cool as Apple’. ~ Leo Apotheker, Hewlett Packard, 27 January 2011

First, doesn’t Leo’s quote remind you of the weird Uncle who tries, but fails, to be cool and gives you those bizarrely off-pitch gifts that you’ll never be able to use or wear?

Second, cool people never say that their goal is to be cool. They just are cool. Clue #1: If you’re trying to be cool…you’re not.

Third, and finally, cool people don’t try to be cool people. They try to be themselves. Good design shops don’t try to imitate or emulate other design shops. They’re opinionated and they try to be themselves. Clue #2: If you’re trying to be Apple, give it up. It’s a sure sign that you don’t have what it takes.

One should want to learn from Apple. But no company should be striving to learn how to be like Apple. That’s a recipe for disaster.

The Google Nexus Q

The Nexus Q was given away at no cost to attendees of Google I/O 2012, but the product’s launch was postponed after user feedback indicated that the device had too few features for its price. Google eventually shelved the product and gave the Nexus Q away at no cost to customers who had preordered it. ~ Wikipedia

I remember when the Nexus Q was introduced — with great fanfare — at Google I/O 2012. Critics weren’t so much critical of it as stunned by it. It had really cool technology, but what it did was so limited and the way it did what it did was so weird that it was hard to see a market for the device. It was a complete head-scratcher. I don’t remember anyone thinking it was a good idea, although the criticism seemed muted because no one could quite figure it out.

In gift giving terms, the Google Nexus Q reminded me of something someone would buy for another if they had way too much money, and way too much time, and way too little common sense and no feedback at all. I can only guess that the Nexus Q was some higher-up’s pet project, and that there was no one at Google who was powerful enough — or brave enough — to say “no” and pull the plug.

There is no doubt that the Google Nexus Q was innovative, but it wasn’t Design. Design looks to meet the unanticipated needs of the customer. The Google Nexus Q was all about the cool technology.

The Amazon Fire Phone

The disaster that is the Amazon Fire Phone is still unfolding. There are reports that Amazon ordered a million of these dogs and have only been able to pawn 35,000 of them off on their unsuspecting customers.

According to a recent CIRP survey of 500 Amazon Prime customers, literally none of them owned a Fire Phone. ~ Charles Arthur (@charlesarthur) 10/23/14

Jeff Bezos is one of the smartest men on the planet, but this appears to be an example of unbridled hubris. Amazon thought they could substitute a gimmick in lieu of substantive features. If you want to see how truly gimmicky these devices are, take a gander at the following short Amazon pre-release promotional video.

I’ve included a longer promotional video showing more supposed features (which are really still more gimmicks), here.

In gift giving terms, this is an example of the gift giver thinking that some cool gimmick made the gift fabulous, when, if fact, all it did was make the gift gimmicky. It’s an especially sad gift because other than the gimmick, the gift had few other redeeming virtues to speak of.


Here’s a bonus design gaffe. What’s wrong with this picture?


Action with without vision is a nightmare. ~ Japanese proverb

A learning experience is one of those things that say, “You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.” ~ Douglas Adams

The Focus Of Design

The common thread in all of the above Design disasters is that the Designer — the gift-giver — was thinking of something or someone other than the customer. Microsoft thought of their product. HP thought of themselves. Google thought of the technology. Amazon thought they could pull one over on their customers.

[pullquote]The most fundamental part of design is truly understanding your customers at a deeper level than they even understand themselves.[/pullquote]

It is this lack of understanding and appreciation for the very hard work and deep thinking required to surprise and delight that leads to countless companies and Steve-Jobs-wannabes crashing-and-burning, even as they declare their fealty to design. … The most fundamental part of design is truly understanding your customers at a deeper level than they even understand themselves. ~ Ben Thompson, Stratechery

When it comes to Design, technology alone is not enough. In fact, it’s not even the place where Design begins.

You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around. ~ Steve Jobs

It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. We believe that it’s technology married with the humanities that yields us the results that makes our heart sing. ~ Steve Jobs

The technology isn’t the hard part. The hard part is, what’s the product? Or, who’s the customer? ~ Steve Jobs

The be all and end all in Design is understanding the unmet — and unasked for — needs of the customer.

Our DNA is as a consumer company — for that individual customer who’s voting thumbs up or thumbs down. That’s who we think about. ~ Steve Jobs

There are a lot of people innovating, and that’s not the main distinction of my career. The reason Apple resonates with people is that there’s a deep current of humanity in our innovation. ~ Steve Jobs

It’s really great when you show somebody something and you don’t have to convince them they have a problem this solves. They know they have a problem, you can show them something, they go, “oh, my God, I need this.” ~ Steve Jobs

Apple has always been, and I hope it will always be, one of the premiere bridges between mere mortals and this very difficult technology. ~ Steve Jobs

Listen to how Steve Jobs described the Macintosh, below, paying particular attention to the text that I’ve bolded:

…In 1979, when I saw an Alto [that had been developed] at Xerox PARC [Palo Alto Research Center]. It was as if, all of a sudden, the veil had been lifted from my eyes. It had the mouse and the multiple-font text on the screen, and you realized in an instant that this would appeal to exponentially more people than the Apple II. I’m talking about people who didn’t want to learn how to use a computer — they just wanted to use one. You could eliminate a whole layer of what someone had to know in order to take advantage of this tool. ~ Steve Jobs

The whole idea of the Macintosh was a computer for people who want to use a computer rather than learn how to use a computer. ~ Steve Jobs

Most people have no concept of how an automatic transmission works, yet they know how to drive a car. You don’t have to study physics to understand the laws of motion to drive a car. You don’t have to understand any of this stuff to use Macintosh. ~ Steve Jobs

[pullquote] The only way to make a product that your customer understands from the start is to understand your customer before you start to make the product.[/pullquote]

The only way to make a product that your customer understands from the start is to understand your customer before you start to make the product.

The Distrust Of Design

All business success rests on something labeled a sale, which at least momentarily weds company and customer. ~ Tom Peters

Design seeks to wed the company to the customer by making a commitment to understanding the customer first. However, most companies treat a sale less like a wedding and more like a one-night stand. They don’t care about what they make, they care about what they sell.

Design, in their eyes, is just an extremely clever marketing trick and Apple, in their eyes, is just an extremely successful Lothario who uses Design to seduce their naive and gullible customers. These companies believe that the secret of Apple’s success is sincerity…

……and if you can fake that, you’ve got it made. ((“In the early days of television, a young producer told news correspondent Daniel Schorr that the secret of making the transition from print to TV reporting was sincerity. “If you can fake that,” said the producer, “you’ve got it made.” This gag floats around show business (the word “honesty” sometimes substituting for “sincerity”), attributed to a wide range of prominent personalities: Mark Twain, Groucho Marx, George Burns, French dramatist Jean Giradoux, and rocker David Lee Roth.” Excerpt From: Ralph Keyes. “The Quote Verifier.” iBooks.

With lies you may go ahead in the world, but you can never go back. ~ Russian proverb

Since they believe that design is a gimmick, they spend their time trying to learn more about Apple when they should be spending their time trying to learn more about their customers. Good Design looks to meet the unanticipated needs of the customer. Bad Design looks like marketing. Which reminds me of a joke:

BOYFRIEND: Why do you never scream my name when you climax?

GIRLFRIEND: Because you are never there.

Many of Apple’s competitor’s share the same fate as the boyfriend, above. Their customers aren’t excited by the presence of their products because their products aren’t presents that surprise and delight.

The Rewards Of Design

Design — like the un-asked for gift — is hard and it’s risky. But the rewards are great.


Apple is a company that provides easy solutions wrapped in a desirable experience. People pay extra for that. ~ Lou Miranda (@TheNewLou)

Good Design is profitable. In the second quarter of 2014, Apple made 68% of all the profits in mobile devices. ((In Q2, Apple made 68% of mobile device OEMs’ profits (65% in q1, 53% in Q2 13). Samsung – 40% (41% q1, 49% q2 13) Source: Canaccord Genuity ~ Daisuke Wakabayashi (@daiwaka) 8/5/14)) In the third quarter of 2014, Apple made 86% of all the profits in handsets.

Estimated share of Q3 handset industry profits: Microsoft: -4%, Motorola: -2%, HTC, BB: 0%, LG: 2%, Samsung: 18%, Apple: 86%. ~ Kontra (@counternotions) 11/4/14

The iPhone 6 and 6 plus went on sale in late September and the new iPads went on sale in mid-October. One can confidently predict that Apple’s take of the mobile profit pie is likely to grow even larger in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Apple now generates almost 15x more profit per iPhone sold compared to what Samsung makes selling per Galaxy. ~ Neil Shah (@neiltwitz) 10/29/14


Good Design differentiates. There just isn’t enough good Design in the world. Master it and you immunize yourself from commoditization.

It’s not about doing what you can, it’s about doing what others can’t. ((Excerpt From: C. Michel. “Life Quotes.” C. Michel, 2012. iBooks.


Profitability and sustainability are only the beginning of the rewards garnered from Design. The true reward is the emotional response one receives from one’s customers. Good Design — like the unasked for gift — touches the heart. You don’t just have a business relationship with your clients, you have an emotional relationship, as well. You took the time and effort to understand what they wanted, and they, in turn, respond with gratitude and loyalty.

I get asked a lot why Apple’s customers are so loyal. It’s not because they belong to the Church of Mac! That’s ridiculous. It’s because when you buy our products, and three months later you get stuck on something, you quickly figure out [how to get past it]. And you think, “Wow, someone over there at Apple actually thought of this!” And then three months later you try to do something you hadn’t tried before, and it works, and you think, “Hey, they thought of that, too.” And then six months later it happens again. There’s almost no product in the world that you have that experience with, but you have it with a Mac. ~ Steve Jobs

The average Apple customer loves Apple’s Designs. But even more, they appreciate the love behind the designs, which is why they, in turn, love to get behind Apple and support them.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. ~ Simon Sinkek ((via Abdel Ibrahim (@abdophoto))


Design is not for everyone. There are other ways — honorable ways, profitable ways — to compete. But for those who are gifted at Design, Design is the gift that keeps on giving.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This series of articles were inspired by an analogy used by Ben Thompson in his great Stratechery article entitled “Christmas Gifts And The Meaning Of Design.” His article can be found here.

Published by

John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?

82 thoughts on “Apple’s Design: The Gift That Keeps Giving (2 of 2)”

    1. Thank you for your very kind comment.

      I’m immodest enough to say that I really liked writing this one. And I’m modest enough to say that I couldn’t have written a single word of it had it not been for the inspired gift giving analogy provided by Ben Thompson.

      1. while i do enjoy your article but i disagree on this Market Research gives the customer what they ask for FalKirk

        Market Research has never been about giving customer what they ask for, is rather about finding the problem that much customer want to be solve, It’s technology Research that give customer what their need and without it there would be no Apple today.

        Good Design is just common sense instead of all the fanfare that you’re talking about
        the difference is only with those who take it seriously such as Apple versus those who don’t

        Apple is as bad when it come to designing good software service as they are good when it come to hardware

        do you remember Poor decision about some service such as Apple Ping which deserve a place in your article as bad design and poor taste about customer need and that there was no one at Apple who was powerful enough — or brave enough — to say “no” and pull the plug.

          1. the same can be say about your article John which is always about mocking other company’s just to make Apple Look great and keep your follower Happy.

            my point have a lot of merit that only your own prejudice won’t let you see

  1. BTW, lol @ Acer if they thought that was good design for that laptop. It shows they have a lot to learn about what their customers want and need. If they think that is good design they should stick to focus groups.

    1. Remember the early PCs, with their tracking devices here, there, and everywhere? It took Apple with the 500 series “Blackbird” PowerBooks to show the world that the pointing belonged. It appears Acer forgot that lesson. (Although the IBM ThinkPads with their doohickey between the “G” and “H” keys on the home row of the keyboard weren’t too bad.)

  2. The analogy with gift-giving works only up to a point. Gifts are one-offs. There are social norms of politeness that often prevent you from getting feedback on whether your attempt to get a thoughtful gift was successful (green zone) or totally bombed (red zone). Also, gift buyers tend to buy things they themselves like or at least can understand how you would like it, so even if you’re able to give feedback, if the gifter and giftee have too little in common, you’re still going to see a lot of red zone gifts.

    With products, however, you can iterate and seek feedback. Sometimes a product ships before it’s fully baked, and pushing it from the red zone into the green zone is just a matter of the team that built it needing more time and a couple of iterations to find the proper groove.

    Other times, the design is flawed, and that’s where market research can come in. Sure, customers have trouble imagining what they’ve never seen before. Most often feedback about a red zone product will be about pushing it back into the yellow zone. But the existence of something new and different that doesn’t work can, sometimes, spark the imagination. If your red zone product managed to make some customers see what they could not before imagine, and you get some feedback about how this would be a totally awesome thing if only it did this instead of that, or didn’t have these sucky aspects… then market research can help push a red zone product into the green zone.

    The problem of course, is using iteration on a red zone product to costs money, and with the idiotic short-sighted focus on profits and shareholder value nowadays, very few companies have the guts to gamble on attempts to fix a flawed product. HP’s murder of Palm OS is an obvious example of a company stupidly killing a promising product before it had a chance to get better.

    OTOH, some companies are willing to pour vast amounts of cash down bottomless ratholes (Microsoft’s search engine, for instance). Sadly for Microsoft, iterating yourself out of the red zone requires first, a realization that you are in the red zone, second, humility, and third, the ability to distinguish between feedback that’s pushing you back into the yellow zone and feedback that’s pushing you forward into the green zone. It would seem that MS is sadly lacking all three of these things.

    1. “Gifts are one-offs.”

      I agree, but I see Apple product intros as definitely “one-offs” too. They have nearly always //delivered// an inspired gift at each intro. Other companies almost never get to great, but some get to good.

      As far as iteration goes, Apple does it. But note well, Apple are starting integration on an already great 1.0 gift. No one does that repeatedly like Apple.

  3. “… obliteration takes place when one person or the other exploits the relationship for any purpose other than its true one” Reuel Howell, The Miracle of Dialogue.

    To iterate: Market research that does not build and affirm trust is just lists, a John notes. Qualitative marketing research uses chat, conversation, and dialog to surface our shared goals, values, needs, and visions.

    1. Respectfully disagree. Customers wanted a faster horse. They never asked for or could have imagined the Model-T. Apple’s customers wanted a phone and an iPod. They never asked for and never knew they wanted an iPhone…until they saw it.

      1. And they wanted an iPhone because … they all knew and always knew … they wanted to carry their tunes etc. with them. Not sure we do disagree. It’s the final cause that drives the formal cause. Form follows function.

        1. “I’m simply put off by the patronizing sense that designers fulfill needs folks didn’t know they had.”

          Design as defined herein is that: exactly fulfilling needs folks didn’t know they had. But “designers” are not the only ones playing this game. I am building an elevated garden box on our deck. I am doing my best to understand the needs of the problem and also the esthetics of my solution. In effect, I am a gardener who is //designing//.

          Nothing patronizing about the act of designing. It’s just figuring out what’s needed and delivering that while appreciating looks, ergonomics, and preferences.

          You know who’s not designing? Check out Mr Bezos and his “strategic” creations. Unfortunately, his stock is paying the price of his genius.

          1. I’m mostly picking on the language we use imprecisely. And the tone. Whose needs? The needs your spouse doesn’t know about? And you ascertain these needs by some alchemy?

          2. I’ve conducted a ‘focus group’ of 1 and got her stated needs: size, height of the bed, location.

            What I’m providing that she “doesn’t know about”:

            – materials and construction tech and engineering that will last

            – pleasing to the eye (She can’t draw and neither can I so the proof will be in the pudding.)

            – low cost materials

            – minimal distracting features

            All of this is good ‘design’. What wouldn’t be design would be the case where I put something up that has an interesting gimmick to satisfy my fun with inventiveness (I thought of and rejected a few of those.)

            Look. In a way, it’s all semantics. I think you’re reading an attitude into this article that I don’t read. You think designers are stuck up, patronizing. But if you pay attention to

          3. Rereread your first couple statement before posting. You say “her stated needs.” My comments concern designers assuming they can meet needs that they say we “don’t know we have.” It’s a very specific criticism. Over and out.

        2. “I’m simply put off by the patronizing and deifying note, that designers fulfill needs folks didn’t know they had.”

          Right. It does come off a bit like the fashion designer who _declares_ “This is what everyone has to wear this Fall to be a real human being”, even though, they won’t ever wear it themselves.

          But I don’t think that is where the article is coming from. I think it is more the idea of not settling for the status quo, the designer saying there has to be a better way to change things even in the face of mass contentment with how things are. Not changing for the sake of changing, but re-imagining so as not to settle. That’s how one gets to disruptive products. It is also how one gets to abject failures. Apple has done both.

          And it is not a process that everyone should emulate. As in all things, people and companies have what they do best. This is just where Apple operates. Currently it is serving them well.


          1. Spot on. I may be riding John’s horse too long and hard. Moving to your point:

            I like to ask: If you could choose to be an NFL lineman, would you want to play offense or defense? Protect or uproot? Going way back, my hero was Alex Karras with the Lions. Which makes me a happy commenter, not a writer like John. And an editor by trade.

            Jobs, I think, played defense mainly. Cook … quarterback.

          2. Hmm. I like to ask pasta or steak? Then my wife says salad. Oh, well. I have no idea where Jobs or Cook fit in that illustration. I have no idea what I mean by this.


      2. Respectfully disagree with your disagreement.

        “Customers wanted a faster horse.”

        Sure, that’s what they “knew” they wanted. But careful, insightful interviewing would have disclosed the problems and pain points in their horse-and-buggy lifestyle (cleaning up horse poop, buying enough hay, keeping the animal from bolting, etc).

        Which is I think what stefnagel was getting at with “To turn our tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge.”

        Good design doesn’t just come from nowhere, it’s not handed down from on high, it’s based on figuring out what problems you are going to solve, what pain points you are going to eliminate with your new thing. And if you want to sell your new thing to almost everyone, instead of just people like yourself, you’d better acquaint yourself with the problems and pain points of the population at large. Which means interviews, focus groups, etc, in other words, market research.

        The difference is whether you take that data at face value (which lands you in the yellow zone) or look under the surface and do your best to grok what is behind the requests for faster horses, and then figure out how to provide solutions to those underlying, unconscious problems. Depending on how well you grok the problems, and how well you create your solutions, you then either land in the red zone or the green zone.

        1. ” But careful, insightful interviewing would have disclosed the problems and pain points in their horse-and-buggy lifestyle (cleaning up horse poop, buying enough hay, keeping the animal from bolting, etc).”

          Sort of. A lot of that tacit is derived by “This is just the way things are.” They can’t think of (imagine) another way of doing things. It doesn’t mean they _prefer_ it, but their worldview of transportation is not just shaped, but defined by what they know.

          A different perspective of @stefnagel:disqus correctly pointing out “Form follows function” is that at some point in a society the form defines the function instead of serving the function. People can’t think of it any other way. To the man with a hammer everything becomes a nail. It often takes someone coming along and asking, then addressing, “Is this really the best we can do?”

          I like your ETA2 because I think this is where Apple works from, I think they have even stated as such. Up until the passing of Jobs, I believe Jobs was consumer zero at Apple. Today I think it is a bit more decentralized. But as you point out, and as Apple exemplifies, it is possible to get it wrong. As John points out in the article, it is a risk.

          And then at that point it becomes about personal taste and perspective about what is working, what needs improving, what needs replacing, and even what needs eliminating to create the first product. And if they can’t come at it from a personal perspective they are really guessing at what is truly important, even when involving a focus group. The designer gives it the thought, the imagining, that no one else has and sometimes didn’t even think they needed to. That’s a large part of what makes such a product disruptive.


        2. “And if you want to sell your new thing to almost everyone, instead of just people like yourself, you’d better acquaint yourself with the problems and pain points of the population at large. Which means interviews, focus groups, etc, in other words, market research.”

          There is another way to accomplish this of course, through instinct and empathy. I see this in great writers, musicians (and other artists), and great designers have this talent. They can look at a thing and see how it could work better. Maybe it also has to do with being able to shed bias, to view your environment without filters, perhaps that is also part of the talent involved.

          1. And I just would have said clueless, but empathy describes it so much better, hence my use of the term asby. Disconnected from the rest of the world to varying degrees. It seems to have become an epidemic. Is it related to poor upbringing, not training young minds to respect others (me me me me….) or the obscene amount of chemicals in the environment poisoning growing brains, or the influence of peer pressure generated by advertising and other marketing making proper parenting extremely difficult.
            They seem to find their way into tech and financial areas where their lack of empathy is destroying our countries and culture.

      3. sorry chief, I think you think Stef is disagreeing with you, but I don’t think he is. Another excellent article btw, many thanks (or is it thinks) for your comprehensive works.

  4. You really did a good job on this one. The prior one too. Excellent points. Clearly, it’s an opinion piece, but left room and rationale for the counter opinion.

  5. “Design, in their eyes, is just an extremely clever marketing trick and Apple, in their eyes, is just an extremely successful Lothario who uses Design to seduce their naive and gullible customers.”

    Good summary. For much of the anti-Apple crowd they need some rationale to excuse Apple’s success, anything to avoid the uncomfortable truth that Apple really makes great products, Design matters, and for a very large segment, Apple offers the best solution. But that can’t be true, no, what’s actually happening is Apple is tricking their customers, this Design thing isn’t real, it’s all smoke and mirrors, and Very Soon Now, all the Apple customers will Wake Up and switch to Real Computers.

    Humans seem to have trouble when confronted with the possibility that the material goods they own and use aren’t ‘The Best’. Somehow I think this notion plays a part in the denial of the value of Apple’s Design. It’s not enough that people have what works best for them, it seems to irk a large number of people that Apple’s offerings (which they did not buy) are indeed the best for other people, and Design is a large part of that. So I suppose the natural reaction is to say Design doesn’t matter, or as you say, distrust it, to minimize or ‘cancel out’ the value or ‘best-ness’ of Apple’s products.

    1. Good point. I had such a discussion a few months back, because, you know, the iPhone is such a shitty phone. “So, what’s so shitty about it, then?” I asked.
      The answer, which came a few hours later was (almost word for word quote):«Because Bill Gates donated much of his wealth to charity, and Steve Jobs didn’t.»


      Much of the anti-Apple crowd reacts in the exact same way: through cognitive dissonance.

  6. Great article John. Loved every bit of it.
    Haven’t read anything in ages that focus so much on Design aspect of products because in my opinion a large number of people underestimate the power of design.
    I’d love if you can write something on the subject of why some people hate Apple. To me one of the big reason is old debate of capitalism vs communism i.e. people don’t like rich people although they themselves want to be rich.

    1. “I’d love if you can write something on the subject of why some people hate Apple” – NonyAsip

      Intriguing. I’ve added the topic to my list of possible articles.

      1. I think it has a lot to do with how much people dislike being wrong, it’s very uncomfortable for most people. Apple’s approach to technology wasn’t supposed to work, and it certainly wasn’t supposed to deliver good products. But Apple’s approach has clearly worked very well, resulting in many high quality and very powerful products. This naturally makes a lot of people very uncomfortable, since they chose different products (Apple suckz!) or couldn’t afford Apple products (overpriced toys for noobs!) As I touched on in my earlier comment, people like to think they’re smart, capable, that they make good decisions, and there’s a lot of ego and identity wrapped up in having ‘the best’ or making the right choice when it comes to material goods. When it becomes obvious that an Apple product is actually better in some way, the ego seeks to create a reality in which that Apple product isn’t really better in any way, in fact it is deficient in many ways and that person wasn’t wrong after all. Phew! Thanks ego!

        Then of course there’s the hobbyist/tinkerer nerd crowd that hates Apple because they’re making computing devices too accessible to mainstream folks (closed! appliances! toys!), which makes the hobbyist/tinkerer unnecessary (destroying their power and status).

        Anyway, I think it would be a fascinating article. I remember not too long ago when Benedict Evans simply pointed out that Apple was now selling more devices than Windows PCs, and he had to close his comments section due to the level of hysteria that ensued. The denial of reality was incredible.

        I’ve often said the short version of the anti-Apple position seems to be: “No matter how much Apple succeeds, Apple is not succeeding!”

          1. Interesting article, thanks for the link. I think for some people it is as if Apple is an evil super villain that actually won and is ruling some portion of the world. Apple’s success just doesn’t compute for some, they simply cannot understand it and seek to explain it in very illogical ways.

            I wonder though, the move towards making computing devices simpler, the abstraction of the computer, creating ‘appliance computers’, isn’t that the logical evolution of computing? Doesn’t every other industry move in this direction? Things get simpler, more reliable, more powerful, and more accessible over time (Star Trek computer!)

            Consumers don’t desire complexity, so why would market forces move in the direction of complexity? There must be edge cases I’m not thinking of. But perhaps computing devices are simply catching up or entering that stage where complexity is being reduced enough that we are noticing it, and that upsets a vocal minority.

          2. The asby nerds violently resent their power over computing and other things tech being removed. They’re like three year olds refusing to go to bed. They’ve wielded their ability to operate insanely badly designed devices like a big stick for four decades and apple is slowly removing their relevance.
            This applies to all consumer technologies from vhs to wrist worn devices. All electronic interfaces are appalling except apple’s. Smart TV’s…..seriously? If I actually was forced to use one, it would be via a baseball bat. They’re infuriatingly bad.
            This applies to their “operating” manuals as well. Did they even try those on focus groups? Do they release them purely out of spite? Panasonic’s are probably the least worst of the rest, but their dorky cartoons are a weird attempt at friendliness and ease of use.

          3. Yeah, I dig my Samsung LED TV, but it’s a Smart TV that ain’t so smart, I never use that aspect, it’s so terrible. My satellite TV provider just updated their guide software, and it is laughably bad. I keep thinking, these folks spent probably months and months working on this, and it sucks. Or perhaps they put in almost no effort and that’s why it sucks. That would be better, because if what they delivered is a best effort, there’s little hope for them.

          4. And Arthur does see some hate. Check out the comments on the Guardian site.

            Interesting: “Apple’s staff have probably got used to having their products called toys by now.” Horace Dediu says that disruptive innovations are perceived as toys at first. Too simple. And nobody does simple, deceptively simple, better and more often than Apple.

            Simple toys of hellacious disruption.

  7. Truly magnificent piece! Your essays keep getting brighter and better and, given the main thrust of their subject matter, I anticipate even better to come.

    I will be sending this off to a friend, a great musician whose daughter has a fabulous voice and great songwriting potential, but they both spend too much time needlessly listening to Adele, Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Demi Lovato et Al, comparing and tailoring their output to sound like these artists, instead of trying to anticipate listeners’ NEEDS rather than their wants.

    If he can grok the ESSENCE of this truly enlightened piece and proceed accordingly, then you, not I, would be giving him the greatest ever gift this Christmas!

    1. What a great compliment! Thanks.

      Here are a few quotes that you might also want to pass on to your friend:

      I think you have to be what you are. Don’t try to be somebody else. You have to be yourself at all times. ~ John Wooden

      Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. ~ Oscar Wilde

      Be yourself. The world worships the original. ~ Ingrid Bergman

  8. A twist that illustrates the risk of the unasked for gift. I remember one Christmas I needed and wanted a good, down, winter jacket and told everyone who could get it for me. Most everyone did not. Most everyone until, the last person I visited that Christmas, my Mom—I know it sounds bad, but it really wasn’t and she knew and OK’d ahead of time since I didn’t really have a choice because of work. My Mom got me my jacket. It was the only thing she got me because she spent a good chunk of change, but it was perfect. Everyone else went for the unexpected, my Mom went for my ask. She won (to be fair, she usually did anyway).


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