Apple's Design Strength Prevents Overserving

Apple's senior vice president of industrial design, Jony Ive, follows Dieter Rams' ten principles of great design. Rams designed iconic consumer products for Braun, and he believed in making products as useful and functional as possible by making them simple and intuitive. He stressed avoiding unnecessary features or anything else that might detract from the product's usefulness -- he believed it was important to avoid making the product more than it naturally was. And he thought aesthetics like look and feel were part of a product's functionality.  See Concepts page and discussion of Clayton Christensen.   

A company that follows this design approach avoids overserving and ends up focusing on "jobs that need done." At Apple, Jony Ive and his team design products that are simple, convenient, and easy to use, which allows users to take better advantage of a product's functionality. This helps prevent functionally overserving products.  

Christensen says that product functionality and reliability become "good enough" first, followed by ease of use, convenience, customization, and affordability, but Apple's approach suggests that improvements in these areas do not progress in linear/lockstep order, one after the other -- they are interdependent. Apple's devices are convenient and easy to use, with readily accessible features/functions, which make them less likely to functionally overserve. That's why Apple products are more heavily used than most competing alternatives (based, for instance, on web usage figures for smartphones and tablets). 

Apple's design approach allows it to easily prioritize -- based on specific product and job that needs done -- functionality/reliability versus convenience, affordability, and customization. 

With the iPod Touch, for example, affordability is prioritized over functionality. Consistent with Dieter Rams's principles, Apple doesn't try to make the product more than what it naturally is -- a great game device and an affordable way to access the App Store. The jobs that need done are simple (gaming and cheap access to the App Store), so the product is designed and priced accordingly, which prevents overserving.

With the Mac Pro, functionality is prioritized over all else because the product is used by developers and content creators to accomplish a sophisticated job that needs done (programming).

Both the iPod Touch and the Mac Pro are great products because they're well designed around the respective jobs they're trying to accomplish. A product that overserves isn't well designed around the specific job that needs done.

Apple's willingness to shift priorities is reflected in the following quote from Steve Jobs:  

"Originally, we weren’t exactly sure how to market the [iPod] Touch. Was it an iPhone without the phone? Was it a pocket computer? What happened was, what customers told us was, they started to see it as a game machine. We started to market it that way, and it just took off.  And now what we really see is it’s the lowest-cost way to the App Store, and that’s the big draw. So what we were focused on is just reducing the price to $199. We don’t need to add new stuff.  We need to get the price down where everyone can afford it."  (emphasis added).

Hopefully Apple will maintain this approach going forward. While Steve Jobs is gone, Apple's culture, priorities, and design team (led by Jony Ive) appear intact.

The author owns stock shares of Apple Inc.