Design Is About Intent

The most admired companies of each age are often associated with a certain core competency. Ford popularized assembly line manufacturing in the 1910s. Toyota kicked off the lean revolution with its Toyota Production System in the postwar years. GE’s enthusiastic adoption of Six Sigma in the ’90s spread the mantra of quality. These capabilities are credited with helping transform the respective industry of each company.

Apple is unquestionably the most admired company in the world today. So what is Apple’s defining capability?

Lest there be any doubt, they told us last summer: Apple is about design. It’s what they value, teach, and celebrate, and it’s what has enabled them to revolutionize industry after industry with innovative products and business models. 


Design as the New Management Tool

Largely due to Apple’s unprecedented success, design has recently become extremely fashionable in the broader business imagination:

A selection of recent headlinesDesign

Business gurus like Roger Martin, institutes like Stanford’s, and consultancies like IDEO have all helped spread the gospel. With the worthy aim of making design accessible to the rest of us, they’ve broken down “design thinking” into step-by-step frameworks, which generally involve empathetic understanding, creative ideation, and experimental prototyping.

We saw this pattern with the Lean and Quality movements too – both generated extensive, organized, and widely adopted disciplines (think of Six Sigma’s DMAIC methodology and hierarchy of belt colors). But I fear that “design” has moved too quickly to the tools and techniques stage – the “how,” instead of the “what.” It’s quite evident that even Apple’s close competitors have not come anywhere close to replicating its design capabilities. And the reason is that many companies are missing the forest for the trees.


What Design Is Really About

Putting aside all the trappings associated with them, the big management ideas described above can be whittled down to first principles. The core object of the Lean philosophy is waste. Quality is fundamentally about variability. And design is about intent.

Intent means purpose; something highly designed was crafted with intention in every creative decision. Frank Lloyd Wright explained that intent drives design with the credo “form follows function“; P&G calls this being “purpose-built.” The designer is the person who answers the question “How should it be?”

Overarching intent is easy. The hard part is driving that conscious decision-making throughout every little choice in the creative process. Good designers have a clear sense of the overall purpose of their creation; great designers can say, “This is why we made that decision” about a thousand details.

Which is exactly what Apple does. Their obsession with intentional choice is palpable and personal. When Jony Ive, Apple’s newly titled SVP of Design, criticizes a material selection or feature decision, “he’s known to use ‘arbitrary’ as a term of abuse.” Steve Jobs himself couldn’t even make the most mundane personal design decisions without deep consideration of intent; according to his biographer, this led to a longtime lack of ample furniture in his home:

“We spoke about furniture in theory for eight years,” recalled [wife Laurene] Powell. “We spent a lot of time asking ourselves, ‘What is the purpose of a sofa?'”


The Three Design Evasions

The opposite of design, then, is the failure to develop and employ intent in making creative decisions. This doesn’t sound hard, but, astonishingly, no other leading tech company makes intentional design choices like Apple. Instead, they all commit at least one of what I term the Three Design Evasions:

The first evasion: Preserving

The easiest way to avoid a decision is to not ask the question in the first place. Anyone who’s ever led a business project knows the temptation of recycling precedent – why reinvent the wheel? That’s why, for all of Microsoft’s recent design plaudits, the Surface still features a 30-year-old vestigial key. That’s also why BlackBerry’s last-ditch effort at mobile relevance, the Q10, has a physical keyboard yet again.

But great designers know that sacred cows must always be evaluated for slaughter. Apple is famed for aggressively making clean breaks with the past; you can decry any one decision, but to Apple, nothing is ever settled for good. As Christa Mrgan astutely observed in Macworld, “Sentimentality doesn’t make for good design.”

The second evasion: Copying

Copying others’ design choices is the most obvious way to abdicate forming your own intent and having to make decisions yourself. That didn’t stop Google from fundamentally redesigning Android after the iPhone was unveiled. Nor did it stop HTC from replicating the iPhone’s UI features or colors. Most shameless of all, of course, is Samsung, whose list of appropriated products, features, and even strategies is so long that one suspects the tendency is deeply entrenched in the company’s culture.

Without a doubt, Apple has copied certain features from its rivals as well. The difference is that Apple seems biased to design based on its own intent first, and copy second; its rivals tend to copy first.

The third evasion: Delegating

Delegating is by far the most subtle, pernicious, and widespread of the three evasions, particularly among tech companies. Under the guise of being “user-driven” or providing “choice,” delegators leave crucial design decisions up to the user. One can even subdivide this tactic into three distinct flavors:

A) Offering a wide range of product choice

Many of the most successful hardware companies seem incapable of deciding how their products should be, so instead they offer variety:

The banner of “choice” is always good PR, and may even be good product strategy for many companies. But it’s not design. Design means curating the choice for the consumer. John Gruber summarizes Apple’s starkly limited product line well:

“Apple offers far fewer configurations. Thus, [Apple products] are, to most minds, subjectively better-designed – but objectively, they’re more designed. Apple makes more of the choices than do PC makers.” 

As an analogy, giving someone birthday money instead of taking the time to choose a gift seems eminently logical – why limit the recipient’s choices? But the gifts we remember most fondly are seldom checks.

B) Trying to offer an omni-functional product

Good designers create things with specific uses in mind, which implies making purposeful trade-offs. Another way to abdicate design is refusing to accept those trade-offs; it feels better to make something that could be anything for anyone. Seth Godin calls this a design copout – creating something that “helps the user do whatever the user wants to do,” instead of expressing the creator’s intent.

Once more, Samsung is a prime example; David Pogue summed up his review of the Galaxy S5 thus:

“… if you had to characterize the direction Samsung has chosen for its new flagship phone – well, you couldn’t. There isn’t one … Overall, the sense you get of the S5 is that it was a dish prepared by a thousand cooks. It’s so crammed with features and options and palettes that it nearly sinks under its own weight.” 

This unwillingness to choose, to say no – to exert intent – is also exactly what plagued Microsoft’s Surface, its “no compromises” hybrid tablet/laptop. Unsurprisingly, this jack-of-all-trades device is still a master of none.

Does this mean good design is assertive, ultimately subjective, even restrictive? Absolutely. As Marco Arment put it,

“Apple’s products are opinionated. They say, ‘We know what’s best for you. Here it is. Oh, that thing you want to do? We won’t let you do that because it would suck.'” 

C) Deciding based on user testing

The final flavor of Delegating is a favorite of Internet software and services companies: using A/B testing (or some variant) to see which designs elicit the best metrics from users. Witness the descriptions of how design decisions get made at leading firms:

  • Google: “We think of design as a science. It doesn’t matter who is the favorite or how much you like this aesthetic versus that aesthetic. It all comes down to data. Run a 1% test [on 1% of the audience] and whichever design does best against the user-happiness metrics over a two-week period is the one we launch.”
  • Amazon: “We’ve always operated in a way where we let the data drive what to put in front of customers … We don’t have tastemakers deciding what our customers should read, listen to, and watch.”
  • Facebook: “It doesn’t matter what any individual person thinks about something new. Everything must be tested. It’s feature echolocation: we throw out an idea, and when the data comes back we look at the numbers. Whatever goes up, that’s what we do. We are slaves to the numbers. We don’t operate around innovation. We only optimize. We do what goes up.”

This kind of user testing – often dressed up as “failing fast” or “experimenting” – can be useful, but it’s not design. You can safely bet that Apple has never tested 41 shades of blue on users to decide the right color for its website links.

Look again at the list of companies cited above – Microsoft, BlackBerry, Google, HTC, Samsung, Lenovo, HP, Dell, Facebook, and Amazon. All ten were or are leading, innovative tech companies; all ten could be considered rivals to Apple in some sense; all ten evade the one capability Apple embraces most.


Designing Apple’s Future

What’s noteworthy is that while its competitors avoid design, Apple has been doubling down on it. The clearest example of this last year was iOS 7, Apple’s complete redesign of its most central product. iOS 7’s changes were deeply polarizing, but far from capricious; they were clearly underlain with deep intent.

Gruber correctly characterized iOSes 1-6 as prioritizing obviousness, with buttons and app icons so skeuomorphic, shadowed, and shiny that they looked lickable. iOS 7 did away with much of this ornamentation and use of affordances, and for a clear reason. As Ive explained:

“When we sat down last November (to work on iOS 7), we understood that people had already become comfortable with touching glass, they didn’t need physical buttons, they understood the benefits … So there was an incredible liberty in not having to reference the physical world so literally.”

In other words, as Apple’s intent changed, the design had to also. The new priorities seem to be clarity and order (compensating for the iPhone’s growing capabilities), hardware integration, and what I call “functional delight” – the feeling of joyfully intuitive, effortless actions with immediate, satisfying feedback. You can criticize any of the design decisions they made (and many have), but to do so without considering Apple’s intent is foolish.

This brings us to the present. Many analysts and pundits are puzzling over why Apple is reported to be buying Beats; I suspect Dave Troy and Ben Thompson are on to something:

Troy: The strategy that Apple is undertaking is to reposition the company away from being valued as simply a very good tech company that also happens to have aspirational brand appeal and instead as the world’s most valuable fashion and lifestyle company that provides fashionable, attractive technology through its ecosystem of compatible products.

Thompson: [A]re we witnessing a reinvention, into the sort of company that seeks to transcend computing, demoting technology to an essential ingredient of an aspirational brand that identifies its users as the truly with it? Is Apple becoming a fashion house? 

No outsider knows with certainty why Apple is buying Beats. But consider the following: if design is Apple’s core competency, then that skill should extend beyond computing. And if design can set it apart from all its rivals, then the goal must be to convince the world’s consumers to trust that Apple makes the right design choices for them. “Apple” must mean “great design.” And fashion brands are what we call the signifiers of great design taste.

*          *          *

We tend to think of Ford’s introduction of the assembly line as ushering in an industrywide transition. In reality, the majority of its contemporary competitors struggled to adopt the new system, and were terribly disadvantaged as a result: between 1920 and 1940, over 90% of several hundred U.S. automakers went bankrupt or otherwise vanished.

I don’t expect such a dramatic outcome for Apple’s rivals. But design has lifted Apple to great heights, and I suspect it can take them further. The rest of the world has certainly noticed. But they would do well to think a little harder about what adopting design really means.


85 thoughts on “Design Is About Intent

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    • da questo risultato delle primarie mi aspetto che il gruppo dirigente e i rappresentanti territoriali accelerino sulla strutturazione di sel. è molto importante. considero inutile e velleitaria la scelta di pochi di chiudere col pd e guardare agli arancioni, che tra l’altro, sono divisi in 2 tronconi ancor prima di iniziare l’assemblea del 1 dicembre.

  3. I think this article presents a strawman on both sides. That 41 shades of blue story for Google for example, is apocryphal, Google has loads of industrial and human interface designers, you need only look at Matias Duarte for example, the Johnny Ive of Google. They also acquired Nest, Sparrow, and a number of ex-Apple designers.

    On the other side, it tries to confabulate every decision Apple makes as having been the result of Design and Intent, as if Apple doesn’t make mistakes. Apple has made bad acquisitions in the past, they have launched products that failed utterly (Was Ping part of Apple’s Intent?), and they are making smaller Tablets and bigger Phones, not because of “Intent” or “Design”, but because of market testing. In many markets, people don’t like small screens, period. The new larger devices are a pure market play, any attempt to spin this into a “Design” and “Intent” story is just a ret-con, because Jobs himself said small screens on tablets suck, and large screens on phones are not good. Obviously something changed, and that was huge success of big-screened Android devices in Europe and Asia. Job’s taste and intent in this regard was flat out wrong.

    This article makes some good points, but takes it overboard just like people take any subjective concept overboard by imputing magical properties to it.

    And to say that Apple Designs first, Copies Second, but everyone else does the opposite is woefully simplistic. Obviously the industry is in a closed, iterated feedback loop, of the continued introduction of new design features, as well as copies, and the order switches often.

    Do you deny that Windows Phone Metro or X-Box’s interface was an Intentful design? Microsoft was the first to throw off the shackles of skeumorphism and go for a flat design. They didn’t copy it, and the fact that Google and Apple have adopted flatness is clearly influenced by what they did, the same way WebOS task switcher and notifications influenced others. Apple designs are clearly influenced by others, and while the original iPhone was a pretty large break from the past, all of the refinements since then are traceable to others.

    Take a look at the design evolution of the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. They continually refine their design, and each time one of them comes up with something really good, the other copies it, to the point that both are near identical in “Intent”

    I think this attempt to worship Apple as a hero of Design is going to eventually lead to huge disappointment.

    • This is a really excellent, well-reasoned response to this article (which I also enjoyed greatly).

      The point about MS innovating with Metro and X-Box (and I would say, the original Surface multitouch concepts) are interesting. It seems to be clearly capable of becoming more agile (at least, parts of it*) and Windows Mobile is, in spite of its failings, a really coherently designed experience.

      Apple & MS copying each other (see: Windows 3, the right-click menu) is as old as the companies themselves.

      Another thing that bugs me is the reaction to data-driven design (A/B testing). I agree that taken to its extreme can leave a ugly but effective experience; but what is design *for* if not to achieve a result? I’d like to think there’s a way to find a balance of the two. Data-driven interaction design is ignored at our peril.

    • I don’t quite follow your arguments. The 41 shades of blue wasn’t an example of Google not having the design talent on board at all, it was the decision process.

      Likewise, arguing that design intent drives decision making at Apple has nothing to do with the fact that they can make mistakes. It’s not the end result we are talking about, it’s the process.

      Microsoft’s Metro was lauded by many as great design. Where it fell apart was in Microsoft’s decision process. Instead of designing the Surface along Metro’s clear intent as a touch-only UI, they hedged their bets. They included the regular Windows interface, a mouse and keyboard UI, which confused users and blurred the intent.

      Design intent also doesn’t mean uninfluenced by others. It’s a conscious choice, a decision on what to be influenced by, and what to disregard.

      Decisions do not drive intent, intent drives decisions.

      • And Apple has made demonstrably bad decisions, so what is your point? You imply that Apple’s process somehow leads them to make better decisions and that this is wholly superior to using data to drive the process.

        Any purist concept is always wrong. There’s no way that Apple doesn’t let data feed into their decision making as well. What Apple sells you in their ads is the idealist version. In reality, all companies use a hybrid mix of top-down decision making and bottom up decision making. If you think Tim Cook woke up one day and said “hey, we want users to have big screens” and he wasn’t looking at what consumers are choosing, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

        Any system that totally eschews bottom-up driven inputs will hit an evolutionary dead end and become a monoculture. Apple’s own hardware relies on a vast ecosystem of competing players who have massively improved electronics components over the last 2 decades, in a race to the bottom, driving up specs, and driving down costs. You pooh-pooh these open systems, but without them, Apple would have never had the off-the-shelf components, like the PowerVR GPU, if 10 years of GPU evolution didn’t happen on the PC Desktop first.

        They are leveraging these open systems and if they decided to go with a 100% inhouse design for everything, eventually they would fall behind.

        Google does not run A/B tests with 41 different colors. It’s a bullshit story. Everytime Google changes something and people get included in an experimental UI change, it shows up all over the media “Today Google changed the menu bar at the top, moved the G+ button to the opposite side.” If people were getting a constantly oscillating color palette due to A/B tests, it would be readily noticiable.

        Again, it’s an extremist view. People think Google processes every last little bit of data, looks at everything like Mr Spock, in a cold, emotionless away, having no opinion of their own, and purely at the data.

        It’s a ridiculous simplistic way of looking at Apple or Google by fanboys or anti-fanboys.

      • Eugene, you nailed it.

        DesignToad, I’ll just respond to the “41 shades of blue” comment since you raised it several times. If you follow the link I provided all the way through, the New York Times cites Marissa Mayer as confirming that she had her team test 41 gradations of blue between two competing shades. The directly linked article is to the blog of Douglas Bowman, who was Visual Design Lead at Google and wrote “Yes, it’s true that a team at Google couldn’t decide between two blues, so they’re testing 41 shades between each blue to see which one performs better.” If you have evidence that refutes this anecdote, I’d love to see it.

    • I think you entirely miss the argument on almost every point you make. Others have pointed it out already so I won’t bother to go into detail but you are mixing up success/sales with good/bad design and process with intent. You haven’t refuted anything at all in the article.

    • apple’s “mini” ipad is much larger (almost 8″ in a 4:3 aspect ratio) than the 7″ 16:9 ratio tablets of the day when jobs was criticizing. he was right. additionally, the display resolution has doubled, making use of an 8″ tablet even better.

      also, as far as strawmans go — it’s a strawman for you to suggest “apple makes mistakes too”, as if making mistakes was mutually exclusive with strong design intent. it is not.

  4. Lean is a poor example. It is now a blight on corporate America where consultants enter a company and soak them for as much money as they can. Making up words and destroying any capability to actually accomplish continuous improvement. There’s a good reason over 90 percent of Lean consultants are fired long before the agreed time for them to leave. I lived through one such mess created by Lean snake oil “consultants.” Read the book “Look Before You Lean” by Employee X. I was there. It’s true!

    • Worship of any one methodology taken to an extreme is a problem. it’s all part of the same deep need to believe that genius in one area exists and is repeatable.

      If only you could get a few design geniuses like Johnny Ive and the right philosophy, you will produce a better result than others. That’s about as unproven as claiming that Genius Hedge Fund Managers can beat the market. You take 3-4 data points, and extrapolate that they can, but eventually there’s a string of losses.

      At this point, you can’t separate Apple’s success from path dependency/network effect. Whatever the next iPhone is, people who’ve already locked themselves into the ecosystem will upgrade to it eventually. Not much different than the Windows upgrade treadmill that lasted for 20 years, and no one’s claiming Microsoft’s huge profitability “hits” were driven by design.

      Overall, I find the whole attitude/topic of the original post rather pretentious with a tinge of snobbery and elitism.

      • apple’s ecosystem (and upgrade “treadmill”) is *not* the same as microsoft’s windows of yesteryear. firstly, because iOS is not the monopoly windows was — there are many other options, whereas there were no viable alternatives for the desktop. second, “lock in” in iOS means very little. photos? easy to move. music? easy to move. apps? most are cloud-driven meaning your accounts/data will be accessible on alternative mobile platforms.

        no, people stay on iOS because of the value it offers. not lock-in.

    • leicaman, I think Lean is a perfect example for the reasons you cited. Design is becoming a hot topic with lots of methodologies and practitioners, but a poor understanding of the core issue. I worry it’s heading in the exact same direction as Lean.

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  6. Nicely written, but it’s all for naught. Apple lost it’s hard-earned reputation as purveyor of good taste/design the moment it inked a deal with Beats.

    • oh give it a rest. the deal isnt even announced and you have no idea what theyve got up their sleeves.

      you just dont like it because it’s different than you.

    • Music, and particularly social and predictive music, has been an Apple weak point. Apple has made a number of tries with its shared playlists, music genius and the like, but none of them have caught on. Perhaps you have a point. Apple understands the intent of technical people and visual artists quite nicely, but isn’t quite as sure footed figuring out what people want from and with their music. One would figure that the folks at Beats would at least have some clue in this area having built a successful music / technology business. This rumored, proposed, ??? acquisition may be Apple hoping to fill a nice as it did when it bought SoundJam. I’ve put my Pebble wearable in my “old gadget” drawer. Maybe Apple with its newly acquired Beats talent will come up with a viable and scalable approach to the wearables market as well as get a better handle on their musical intentions.

    • Beim nächsten Problem einfach mal die aus dem 1&1 Moef-iunkl/Festnbtz kostenlose 0721 9600 anrufen. Die ist zwar auch nicht besser besetzt und die Leute sind wahrscheinlich die gleichen, die nichts machen können/wollen, aber wenigstens zahlt man sich dann nicht dumm und dämlich…

    • Does that mean you are going to fix WP Update Robot? There are a few of us on your wp update robot comment section waiting for you to reply to us and give us a status update. I’ve emailed you twice already and I still haven’t heard any thing from you. At least come to your post to acknowledge that you are working on a fix. Today is July 26, 2011 at 9AM MST. My last email was around July 11-15. The program still doesn’t update wordpress/plugins/themes at least not all of them. Please let us know you are looking at a fix and soon.Thanks!

  7. I think Apple went too far into design for iOS 7, and they forgot that something we stare at all day should not only be functional, it should also be beautiful. iOS 7 is as ugly as the cheapest website. It may put Apple at the intersection of technology and design, but I liked it better when they were at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts. iOS used to be the most beautiful tool in my studio, and now it is the ugliest. Nothing is 100% — 100% design is too much design.

    Apple is buying Beats because the mission of the Beats Music service is to obsolete iTunes with a subscription service instead of downloads and with 24/96 “HD audio” instead of iTunes’ CD standard 16/44 audio from circa 1980. Jimmy Iovine has been asking what device maker will go to HD audio for years. Apple can either put HD audio support in iPad and iPhone and iPod (it is already supported on the Mac for many years) or they can offer digital headphones with Lightning connecter and a 24/96 digital-to-analog converter in them. Apple also has a library of 24/96 albums because of their Mastered for iTunes program. Jimmy Iovine can light a fire under producers to complete that library. Beats also has high-end headphones you want to use to hear the higher quality of HD audio. Apple makes the most popular pro and consumer production tools also (Logic and GarageBand) and can support the effort there. So Apple essentially has one half of the HD audio era built and Beats has the other half built. Together, they can give music listeners a much, much better sounding music service and devices. Get the industry finally past the CD era.

    • Wow, I certainty hope your vision of our horrible future is the wrong one. First of all I would point out that perhaps nobody has done more to compromise the CD audio standard than Apple, who played such a key role in getting the MP3 and other compressed audio formats into the hands and pockets of the general public with iTunes and the iPod. MP3 and AAC both start out their compression schemes by chopping off all of the information in the nearly-ultrasonic frequencies above 18kHz. Certainly there would be no point in marketing “HD” content based on the Mastered for iTunes program and encoded with AAC, because that’s already exactly what you are getting when you buy those tracks on the iTunes store. It doesn’t make a lick of difference whether that stuff was sampled at 44.1kHz, 96kHz, or 50MHz because of the low-pass filter on the front end of the encoder.

      Secondly I would of course have to take issue with the idea that Beats sells headphones that are higher quality than anyone else’s. Beats headphones universally sound terrible, especially for the price. You can get much better equipment for the same price, and you can get dramatically cheaper equipment of similar quality. The idea that Apple would buy Beats with the intention of revealing the hidden beauty of recorded music is so silly that I can’t even begin to address its flaws. Beats is pure fashion, and if design is intent then fashion is simply mutation. Fashion is making something different for the sake of difference and trying to make it seem luxurious through high price regardless of function or quality. The perhaps apocryphal creation tale of Beats says it all: the whole thing took off when people saw LeBron wearing them.

      • youre wrong on apple/mp3s. itunes was late to the game — MP3s took off with the public because of two things: 1) WinAmp in 1997, 2) Napster, in 1999. itunes music store didnt come out until 2003….4 years after the peer-to-peer buffet had peaked.

  8. Speaking of design… this page is super hard to read here. A very thin font and very low contrast against a very dark background. Maybe it looks better on Macs, but… that’s not what I use.

    • It does not look any better on Macs.

      Covered with fingerprint smudges as they generally are, the black background looks even worse on an iMac than a generic Windows computer.

      Unfortunately, despite the high level of design knowledge, the authors design intent is out of sync with what most folks want from a web site today. It’s a valid (albeit annoying for most of us), choice.

      • The article looks fine on a Mac, using Safari’s Reader feature. Reader doesn’t pick up the comments, but leaving them in the black is also fine.

    • Agreed. Site design intended to please would not let a color scheme which projects ‘attitude’ trump a desire to make reading a pleasure. I, too, went straight to my Safari ‘Reader’ button.

      • Sorry you find it hard to read. Funny, 90% of people are fine with it (including me, obviously) and 10% hate it. The font is WordPress’ standard size Calibri and the type is very light gray on very dark gray, so contrast appears strong to me? I like it but will consider changing it if it’s really that hard.

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  13. I think you started off well. But Ive’s design of iOS7 has shown a clear lack of intent – of valuing aesthetics over intent (the keyboard caps lock just being the most obvious of the many, many small annoying things about iOS7). And Beats? Beats makes plenty of commercial sense. But as a design focused choice, it is mediocre at best – a style over substance flash in the pan that most “fashion” brands have embraced rather than doubling down on quality and thoughtfulness. Putting a flashy brand name on something of middling virtue does not indicate quality or intent or any of the virtues you espouse here

  14. I really appreciated the Frank Lloyd Wright treatment of design here. But I would contest that most fashion brands are good at design in the way Apple values it. Their intents are different, so to speak. Thanks again for a great article.

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  16. Thank you, John. Too bad the word ‘fanboy’ pops up in the comments like a toadstool, spoiling an otherwise satisfying reader experience.

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      • Um.

        Sony is the 9th largest tech company in the world. They are bigger than Google, LG, Toshiba, Dell, Matsushita (Panasonic), and Intel.

        I think you’re just redefining “leading” so as to avoid admitting that I pointed out why your whole claim is nonsense.

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    • hmm, my blood has been boiling of late as we3..lI&#l9;m just a wee bit over the whole bad manners thing…but that quilt is going to go down in history…

  25. This is absolutely the best thing I’ve read in a long time on the intersection of strategy and design. Well done and thank you.

    • I agree, Larry. To elaborate, my thinking is that a big part of the intent was clarity in terms of user navigation. The iPhone has gained a ton of functionality since 2007, but the design hadn’t changed.

      Ive has said the antidote to complexity is order and clarity. I think the use of parallax combined with the translucency of pull-over menus like the Control Center were meant to contribute to a sense of physical depth – of a third axis that makes the structural metaphor far more clear. A slightly more subtle effect is the way app icons fly in upon unlocking, and zoom to the app when you open it, as opposed to the center of the screen. This better affixes app location on-screen in our minds, and combines nicely with the left-right app-switching order preserved across both the multitasking function and in-app launches of other apps. So overall iOS 7 does feel easier to navigate because of the additional physical metaphors, and I think was designed with that intent.

      I absolutely agree that it was a step backwards in terms of affordances and the UI clarity they provide (so, poor word choice on my part). I think this was partly intentional (Ive feels buttons don’t have to be as obvious anymore) but also just bad execution in many places – they did rush iOS 7 out incredibly fast. Nothing about intent can save you from screwing it up in implementation 🙂 but I suspect much of this will be fixed in iOS 8.

      • An excellent clarification. I agree that iOS 7 was very well thought in regards to navigation. There is a much strong sense of place and the animations help to reinforce it.

        Things like four finger swipe on the iPad make much more sense. When you launched an application from within another application in previous versions of iOS for example, the application you were using would slide off to the left. When you swiped from left to right with four fingers to get back to the previous app the screen would just bounce back because there was no app to the left. The app you were previously using was actually to the right even though you saw it slide off to the left. In iOS 7, the animation makes it clear where the previous app has gone as you see it recede and then slide off to the right as the new app slides in from the left.

        There is a much better sense of consistency in the physical space that is created through transitions and animations in iOS 7.

        Where they haven’t quite figured things out is with buttons and highlight colours. The buttons without chrome look nice, but they fall flat ( 😛 ) in a lot of edge cases. The back buttons are easy to recognize because of the leading < and because you are looking for the button there. Buttons along the bottom or sides are also easy to recognize because they are usually surrounded by some kind of divider that makes them look like a toolbar. Tappable buttons in the body are hard to recognize though. Sometimes they look like headings or labels rather then something that triggers an action. The worst example I have seen is the Top Charts list in the App Store on the iPad. In this case, they tried to use chrome-less buttons similar to the way you would use tabs, but they used the highlight colour on the currently selected list and a grey colour on the text beside it that is a button. Even as a savvy user myself, I didn't know at first which one I was on and which one was tappable. The iPhone Top Charts section uses outlines and background colours to offer something that is more obviously a tab bar and makes it easier to tell which one is selected.

        There is a good article at that discusses tint colour in iOS 7.

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  29. I agree with other comments regarding your website’s design. I’m using my MacBook Pro Mavericks, your website *looks* terrible. Light. Background.

    Otherwise, good read.

  30. This article mixes apples and oranges. And written without a good understanding of design processes and what different methodologies are for. Amazon didn’t come up with delivery drones or the first Kindle using A/B testing. All these companies use A/B testing for small gains in ad click rates etc. with minor changes. When goal is innovation nobody relies on A/B testing. In fact it was Amazon who came up with the innovative business model of making money selling digital books and magazine despite their lack of innovation and boring user tests which Apple later copied.

    Offering a variety of part options for a computer has also nothing to do with lack of design intent. Most of these machines look the same from the outside, have operating systems that give the same user experience regardless of the hardware but they can have various hardware configurations to address different needs. A good gaming computer and a good web server a storage server… are wildly different things.

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  33. Great article! It seems to me (of course not known at the time of the article) that Apple has a good reason to go now with larger screens on their phones; the AppleWatch! While having to carry a large phone in my pocket is something I am not looking forward to, the arrival of the AppleWatch means that I can carry it in my bag or in a less accesible part of my outfit. It is clear to me that Apple knew this (they have been working at the watch for a couple of years) and rethought the implications, rather than just reacting to what others were doing.

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