Through market capitalisation analysis Apple Inc. is now identified as the largest corporation in the world. Apple’s first product was launched in 1976. Despite being on its knees prior to the introduction of the first iMac in 1998, it has since experienced a meteoric rise. The Powerhouse museum is currently developing an exhibition to reflect on the legacy of Apple and its ‘supersized’ success story.
How did two guys, Steve Wozniak an electronic circuit genius and Steve Jobs drifting in from the edge of the late 1960s early 70s counterculture make this happen? They developed and produced devices and applications that introduced us to personal computing, forging a path through to desk top publishing, imaging and audio all the way to mobile media players, phones and now touch screen tablets.
There are a number of key influencing factors that can take you through this extraordinary success story.
Recently appointed Apple CEO, Tim Cook is credited with reducing inventory and pulling Apple out of manufacturing through the closure factories and warehouses around the world from the late 1990s through the mid 2000s. Cook came from procurement where supply chain, inventory, manufacturing and warehousing are all controlled. He fine tuned the supply chain reducing shelf to store cycle from two months to only to two days. Through inventory simplification Apple products could include the latest components and saved a lot of money.
One thing Apple does extremely well is design. Not just the outside but the inside and the space between you and the product where lies desire and ease of use.
Apple continually succeeded in identifying poorly conceived, designed and executed products and remade them to fit their principles and exacting standards.
A quick glance through the history of 20th century product design reveals remarkably similar success stories. Through periods of rapid technological change these companies and individuals identified deficiencies in existing products leading them to innovate, reinvent, redesign and present products that like Apple, displayed clarity of purpose in their designs.
When we look for another example of how designers and engineers took existing products and reinvented them we find individuals like the Castiglioni brothers whose work for Brionvega took existing forms and drastically altered them to fit a modernist design ethos.
There are extraordinary stylistic similarities between the modern post war domestic electronics by the German company Braun, and Apple products 40 years on. There is a consistent use of white, brushed metal finishes, clear and translucent materials, a type of ‘retro styling’ and an application of a purity of form. They are sleek, simplified shapes with gentle curved corners and controls that are remarkably easy to understand and use. In this way both Apple and Braun avoided confusion and presented a ‘calm face’ at a time when the rate of advancement in technology was becoming distressing and disconcerting. This strategy can be traced back to the ideals of the Bauhaus School of Design coupled with manufacturing strategies to deal with mass production.
Marcello Nizolli also reinvented the lettera 22 typewriter for Olivetti through a designer / engineer collaboration that introduced new techniques for product manufacture and assembly. This resulted in mechanically simplified and beautifully finished products that Apple’s designer has emulated with finishes that conceal all forms of fastening.
Perhaps the most important steps Apple made along the way were in the realm of computer / human interface design. Apple identified interface methods from exiting computer research and brought them to market in their machines. Apple designers and engineers applied these methods to existing devices to help eliminate any trace of tedium in their operation.
The mouse and the Graphical User Interface (GUI) borrows from Doug Englebart’s late 1960s Human Computer Interaction research and development, via the Xerox Alto from Palo Alto. Their decision to refine Doug Englebart’s mouse and the Alto’s GUI in the Mac (1984) almost singlehandedly started the personal computer revolution. What Apple successfully did in the presentation and development of this environment is employ the most intuitive symbols and a dynamic flow to eliminate any labour in their operation to achieve what the uses wishes.
“Design should not dominate things, should not dominate people … it should help people.” Dieter Rams