I am the furthest thing from a Mac Fanboy, but even I gotta admit: Apple (AAPL) has some damn fine-looking products.
Why is that?
Could it be Apple’s product designers? Are they just that phenomenal? Could be, but other companies have great product designers too. I’ve known and worked with many. Apple doesn’t corner the market on phenomenal product designers.
My theory is that it lies in their design process.
Here’s what I imagine happens at Apple:
At the start of the design process, the product designers brainstorm and come up with various incarnations. They are shown to Jobs for approval. He selects one and the feedback is incorporated. Once it’s signed off, the chosen design more or less remains the same. If a feature or manufacturing cost threatens to change the design, the team compromises on the feature or cost (i.e. they remove the feature or make the product more expensive). The design is never compromised. This is why the end result is so beautiful.
Now here’s what I imagine happens at other companies:
Most of the steps are similar to Apple’s. They brainstorm, create, approve, select, incorporate, and sign off. The difference comes when compromises need to be made. If a feature or manufacturing cost threatens to change the design, sometimes the feature wins, sometimes the manufacturing cost wins, and sometimes the design wins. Every company differs slightly in the way they weigh their priorities. Those priorities are reflected in the end result, which is sometimes beautiful and sometimes a horrible mess.
That, in a nutshell, is why I think Apple’s products look so good and other companies’ products don’t. Apple prioritizes product design above all else.
Can this be replicated at other companies? Sure. Some companies already do, though perhaps not to the extent that Apple does. I’m guessing this is because of Jobs. His unrelenting push for elegant design is legendary, as is his vehement criticism of poor design. Without such a influential and high-ranking champion of design in the company, however, it might be difficult to replicate.