To be really successful, an innovative product must be well-designed. Great design is what leads to iconic products and a great brand. And rapid/iterative product innovation without great design makes the customer a "test dummy" and risks brand damage. When product iteration is too rapid, it makes effective product design more difficult, because the best product design requires care, thought, and time. It takes product designers time to study and fully consider how a product will be used. Focus on just a few products makes it easier for great designers to devote the time and care needed to create iconic products that create true brand value.
And great design doesn't equate to a premium price tag. In Marc Newson and Jony Ive's recent November, 2013 interview with Charlie Rose, Newson noted (and Ive concurred) that thoughtful product design increases accessibility, often through greater simplicity, ease of use, and affordability. Newson and Ive stressed that good design simplifies and reduces objects to their essence, eliminating anything unnecessary or superfluous. A spacesuit is the ultimate in product design, because everything is essential, everything is necessary. And Ive noted that great design doesn't "wag its tail in your face" -- instead, it disappears and seems "inevitable." Newson went on to note that the best objects transcend the issue of functionality versus aesthetics because they just "kind of are the way they are," and don't seem like they could be any other way.
In today's marketplace lots of companies come up with innovative new products, or make rapid, iterative, and innovative improvements to existing products. Samsung and Google come to mind, with a steady stream of new products and services. But how many companies really focus on marrying great innovation with great design? Apple comes to mind, with its focus on perfecting just a few products.
When great innovation is coupled with great design, you end up with simple, accessible, well thought-out products that don't overserve users. These kind of products really stand out -- and often become iconic -- because so many companies are pumping out a steady stream of new products that are technically innovative but aren't thoughtfully designed. It's hard for designers to create iconic products when they're working on too many new products at once, or when they're facing short cycle times with rapid product iteration.
And most companies probably don't prioritize industrial design the way a company like Apple does -- they often make design compromises to achieve a certain profit margin, or to ensure an efficient and cost effective engineering/manufacturing process. Apple seems fairly unique in its willingness to let industrial design dictate so many aspects of the final product, as noted in Leander Kahney's recent biography of Jony Ive. Over the long haul, Apple's no compromises approach to industrial design may be a significant competitive advantage over companies that don't prioritize design to the same degree (e.g., Samsung, Google, and Amazon).
A couple weeks ago I posted an article on how Apple co-opts adjacent component businesses when the relevant component still isn't functionally "good enough." See post titled "Why Apple Co-opts Adjacent Component Businesses" (11.6.2013). But the other reason Apple probably does this is because they see an opportunity to improve a product's design by making it simpler, easier to use, and more affordable. They co-opt technologies -- like sapphire glass, fingerprint readers, and liquid metal -- that eliminate design constraints and lead to simpler, more accessible designs.
The author owns stock shares of Apple Inc.