Design is not just what it looks like. It’s how it works.

Design. Is Apple losing focus on one of it’s most essential unique strengths?

For a big test we did for Belgian Cowboys recently some members on the editorial team including myself switched from iOS to Android for a while. Not just to see if we liked it or not but also to find out if that switch was so hard as we expected it to be. “What about all those apps I bought? Why start all over again? Will it be as easy to use as what I’m used to now?” A whole series of questions which I presume most of us will recognize come to mind when thinking of such a switch.

Since this article isn’t about that switch I can tell you quickly that that test went really well. I’m currently switching between the HTC One and the HTC One Mini for another test and I don’t miss my iPhone for a second. Actually I find it better on many levels. That made me wonder about a few things.

How come for instance that I find the notifications in Android really useful whereas I don’t even look at them on my iPhone? The set-up is kind of the same so why is that? Looking at both from a basic UI design point of view they are very similar indeed. It’s a drop down menu you pull from the top of your screen with several notifications pointing to apps that need your attention for whatever reason. On Android I will open that screen and either swipe the notifications away or take action. On iPhone I open that view once every month or so to delete these notifications, app by app.

Another example is the on-screen keyboard. On Android I’m using Swype, probably the most productive add-on for a touch screen devices in a long time. Whenever I need to use my iPhone or iPad again I cannot help but be annoyed by the fact that I have to type in the ‘traditional’ way. And that’s not even mentioning the re-design of iOS7.

So how come that on many levels the Android platform is outperforming iOS, whether it’s thanks to core Android development or because of the opportunity to personalise it with technology created by its eco-system? I’m thinking that Apple has actually forgot about the essence of design, a vision it shared openly and that many are taking as an example.

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works” – Steve Jobs

When you think of that and the examples I mentioned before (and there are more) you can only come to the conclusion that the focus of Apple lately was on design as in ‘what it looks like’ and that Google has taken the lead on design as in ‘how it works’. In the last 12-18 months, Google and its eco-system have upgraded the better user experience, Apple has overhauled look & feel. And that’s a pity. Not just because it makes the iPhone a less interesting device but it’s a sign of Apple forgetting about it’s own very essence.

My 2 cents.

A lesson from Steve Jobs

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I just finished reading Steve Jobs’ biography. It took me a while to read it but I’m happy I bought it. I wasn’t all that sure in advance, and not because I used to work at Microsoft once, but because I just didn’t want to read a book about how great everything at Apple really is thanks to the genius etc etc.

It’s not at all like that. The book manages to give a very real – at least it feels that way – image of Steve Jobs and very human, much more human than how your regular fanboy will be talking about him. And that made it interesting. You get a better idea of how he really was, about the things that made him great, about the people that have been his mentor, about how he often wasn’t really such a nice person, about the genius, …

I made quite a few notes while reading the book, notes about things and ideas that I recognized or that I should look into a bit more. One of those things was the Apple Marketing Philosophy that was written down by Mike Markkula. Short but crystal clear.

  1. Empathy – that intimate connection with the feelings of the consumer to truly understand their needs better than any other company
  2. Focus – eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities in order to do the best job possible
  3. Impute – a company should convey its values in everything it does, from packaging to marketing because ‘people do judge a book by its cover’

You should read the book. Seriously. Not because you want to find out what an epic genius Steve was or anything like that – but because just like Steve you should steal from the best, see things with new eyes, work hard to make them different and don’t stop until they’re perfect. Respect.

My next book? Indeed – Steal like an artist, by Austin Kleon.