Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Rule #28: Good design is table stakes. Great design wins.

I stopped by the office of one of my favorite consulting firms yesterday just for a quick check in. Sitting with one of the principals, I exchanged a little bit of chit-chat--favorite airlines, favorite hotels, favorite restaurants, the kinds of things consultants deal with on a day-to-day basis. In the middle of our visit, he stopped to offer a piece of mother-in-law research.
"I was on a plane last week," he said, "and I had to walk all the way from the front of the plane to the back to get to the rest room. As I walked down the aisle I looked at the people on the plane, row by row. I'm guessing that more than 60% of the people on that plane were using an Apple product! They had a MacBook or an iPod or an iPhone--something by Apple. And even if a lot of them were just iPods, that's a lot of iPods!"
Another consultant chimed in, "I still get people who tell me Apple is a challenger brand. Not any more!"
Go into any Apple store and you'll see what both of them were talking about. We're in the middle of a recession, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Just don't tell that to the people working in the Apple stores or the people there to buy things!
What is it that Apple is selling?
It isn't price. Microsoft has made that pointedly clear in the series of ads they've run challenging shoppers to stretch their dollars and get a computer that does all the things they want it to do. Apple has even objected to these ads--with good reason.
No, what Apple is selling is great design. Great design with a capital "D".
It's not just good looks--although Apple has always had products that look great to the eye and feel great in the hand. And back when Steve Jobs briefly amazed the world with fruit-colored monitors, Apple had products that you imagined would taste great in the mouth!
But great design is more than look and feel. It's a sensibility, a way of looking at the product and the user and creating something that is fun to use, delightful to experience, and satisfying to own. Great design comes when you anticipate user's desires, and then give them something they never even thought to ask for. It comes with a cool factor that you really can't fake. It comes with a combination of icon thinking and flawlessly practical execution.
That's why more than 60% of the people on that plane were using an Apple product. And it's why my very sharp-eyed consultant friend noticed. Great design wins--and we all notice winners.

All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb