Life After Apple Design

A Return to Human-centered Design Thought is Needed

The titanic Apple is sinking, and we all have choices to make — Either fiddle along side the fanboys as you sink or listen to the Mesaba’s warnings and proceed with caution.
From software to hardware, Apple is struggling to retain their pristine image, as clean, beautiful, smart and easy to use. Maybe it was just the passing of Steve Jobs that caused this to happen, but I find it incredibly difficult to imagine that one man was responsible for Concept, Design, Quality Control, and Product Testing, when there are 115,000 employees.
Warren Buffet’s recent bet on Apple stock won’t save Apple’s design, it will take a titanic cultural shift, internally, to return to the former glory that was the same company that unveiled the iPod.
It all started when…
The year was 2001 and I was no doubt listening to terrible hardcore and noise rock garbage. (It is important to note that despite my angsty musical preference history, I actually have taste. Check out my spotify) I was cynical that this new technology had merit, because American consumerism had been engrained into my mind as the only way there was. Ownership, real ownership of real things you could look at, touch (and yes, even taste, if you wanted) was the American way.
How wrong I was. It seemed everyone wanted an ipod, even with that less than stellar experience of a click wheel — The rotary phone of MP3 players. But the reason that everyone wanted one, and why I eventually ended up with one; convenience.
Portability and immediacy had found its niche in delivering music to the “Always on the go” culture that technology had assisted in creating.
Apple identified a problem and solved it.
Their solution, however, was short-sighted. What is Apple’s solution for those that actually take the time to appreciate music?
Vinyl sales have soared in the past few years, and it’s not because the world is overrun with hipsters, or audiophiles. It’s because people actually crave the experience of listening to music.
Convenience is often appreciated in design, but design to be sustainably appreciated is not always convenient.
It’s the difference between a new chain diner next-door and the hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon that has been around for 75 years 2 miles away. The new chain might be exciting at first, but people will return to the one that’s been proven because of the over-all experience it provides.
Think about our actual experience when listening to a record IS the activity in which we are engaged. As far as an active listening experience goes — the action of reading the lyric books, feeling the paper, seeing the art at a good scale and flipping the record — are all additive to the frequencies emitting from the speakers. There are certain actions that cannot be substituted or replaced by the convenience of digital. These are parts of not just a musical experience but also human experience, going on a journey, enjoying it and arguably most importantly having a shared experience.
This is easy to forget when we are constantly being barraged with the promise of new and “better” technology and software updates. It’s also easy for us to forget that those problems didn’t exist before the tech was there.
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Today, digital music is ubiquitous. iPhones have the Music app and yet listening has become more difficult than just putting a record on. Navigating the sync process or just using the music store is cumbersome, unintuitive and simply just frustrating. Apple Music, the iTunes store, and Podcasts app are from the same family and should work well together, but they are actually hurdles when it comes to defining an experience we can appreciate.
Enter Human-Centered Design Thinking
When we talk about design, it’s of importance to acknowledge the redundancy of Human-centric design. All design should have human interest at the center. Why? …Exactly
Because “why” is the question rarely asked by other species.
Even if we were to design something, like a nature preserve for another species — be it wildlife or fauna. Those designs would be replete with intent that centers around our appreciation of said area of nature so it can continued to be appreciated for a long time.
Apple products are now omnipresent, BECAUSE they used to be designed with human need at the center. Everyone has an iPhone, or has had one. We know they are convenient, but are they actually built to be appreciated?
I might argue they are built to be so convenient, they are disposable.
With the iPod and eventually iPhone, Apple identified a group of people for whom mobility was an important solution. It turned out, many more than just a few could adopt that convenience. This is when their mindset shifted from doing the most good for some, to just doing the most some for good. By that I mean a majority of their design decisions since they revolutionized how people became more mobile have been less about solving problems for a few, and more about just creating something newer than what they had.
Apple has become a giant ship, thought to be unsinkable. They have built amazing things in the past, but unless they correct course and mind the warnings, they too will just become wreckage.
So when will Apple again begin to actually solve problems to be able to be appreciated? Hopefully, soon.

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