It’s no secret that Apple is one of the most successful companies in the world today. But it wasn’t always this way for them.
Like everyone else, they had to make mistakes and learn from them. What they learned from their failures in the 90’s, is that for them to succeed they had to think different.
When Steve Jobs came back to the company, he changed Apple forever. What made Apple go from almost bankrupt, to a 200 billion dollar company was when Steve Jobs instilled a design culture into Apple.
1. Design is everything. Everything!
Traditional companies don’t have a design culture. Sure, they have designers, but design isn’t the #1 priority from the very top of the organization to the very bottom. For Apple, design is everything. Steve Jobs knows and believes this. When you have a leader that knows and believes in the impact of design, it makes it easy for everyone else to follow suit. When an entire company focuses on design, the result is a foundation for breathtaking products.
2. Design reports to the CEO
Apple is probably the only company where design reports directly to the CEO. If design is the most important element of a product, why wouldn’t the CEO want to take part? However, this doesn’t mean that every CEO qualifies to take part. The reason it worked for Apple is because Jobs is a systems thinker and designer. He simplifies complexity. If you have a CEO who doesn’t know how to cut things to its simplest level, but instead does the opposite, then you may not want the CEO to take part in design. Better yet, you might want to change CEOs.
3. A very small team designs their products
Quality trumps quantity when it comes to teams. Apple has a small select group of skilled and talented designers (12 to 20) who design their major products. Compare that with companies who have large teams with groups of people on a project. Not at Apple. You may get more ideas with more people working on a project, but Apple’s focus is on quality not quantity. They want the best ideas from the brightest people at their company, and they manage to do it well with a very small elite team.
4. Designers make the design decisions
Does it make sense to have non-designers make design decisions? Apple knows that non-designers making design decisions is a recipe for disaster. That’s why they hire the best and trust that they’ll make smart decisions. To make sure of this, they have an executive level position that focuses on design. Jonathon Ive is the senior vice president of industrial design and is the principal designer of many Apple products. You can bet that all design decisions go through him.
5. They do pixel-perfect mockups
When Apple launches new products, there’s no surprise to anyone about what the product will look like. This is because they do pixel-perfect mockups that include the real content they will use, not placeholder content. This means that everyone will be critiquing the real thing and won’t see any interpretive changes by designers or engineers after the review. What you see in the mockup stage is what you will get.
6. They have paired design meetings
In order to create great products, engineers and designers have to work together as a team. That’s why every week the engineers and designers at Apple get together for two complementary meetings. The first is a brainstorm meeting where everyone leaves their inhibitions at the door and goes crazy thinking of different ways to tackle different problems. After that comes the production meeting where they nail their ideas down into a plan for execution.
7. They do no market research
There’s no place for market research at Apple. The people at Apple have good taste. They know what’s good, and they’ll stick to their convictions. The responsibility is on them, not the will of the people. It’s a burden to meet the expectations of millions of people. Instead, they know who they are, what they represent and set their own expectations. This is about designing based upon their own philosophy and values, not somebody else’s.
8. If it’s not perfect, it doesn’t go out
Near perfect is not good enough for Apple. They shoot for perfection. Their policy is that if it’s not perfect, it doesn’t go out to the public. However, this doesn’t mean they are perfect. They sometimes make mistakes too. It just means they work hard for perfection, while other companies believe in getting it out there and fixing it later. Apple believes in getting it right the first time. From there, they’ll work to improve their products with newer versions, but they’ll never ship a mediocre product and fix its holes later.
For a company to match or surpass the level of success Apple’s had, they absolutely have to have a design culture permeates through the organization. This starts at the very top, with leadership that places design as their highest priority. They not only have to believe in design, but they have to think and understand it. Steve Jobs is living proof that when you have a leader who has a great passion and enthusiasm for design, you end up creating products that consumers can’t live without.