Apple was not the first who made a mp3 player, or a phone, or of course, a personal computer. So why did they become so successful? Their competitive advantage or value proposition had to do with more than just developing bleeding edge technology but more to do with the actual user experience between process and design. That’s how they became the dominant market leader without becoming the ones who invented the technology. Provocative, isn’t it? When it comes to taking technologies and changing the way people experience those technologies, no one is better than Apple.
Take for instance the smart phone. There were many before the iPhone, but Apple took a page from Normans play book and focused on the core needs of what the customer wants and focused on the big picture”. They do not cram 100 needless features on a phone just to lead to confusing the user, but focused on making the overall journey easier to navigate to the end product.
The iPhone focused on the core features people wanted from their phones:
- Made it easy for people to navigate emails and web pages in a way that is more conducive to a small handheld device (touchscreen gestures Vs using buttons or a stylus).
- Made it easy for people to read on a small handheld device (larger, high-resolution, graphically-rich color screens Vs small text-based screens)
- Made the camera easy to use and share photos with others.
This was where Steve Jobs fanatical fixation on user design and experience became invaluable to Apple’s success. Take for instance the iPad. Microsoft was going to “revolutionize” the industry with a new tablet OS that will make many notebooks obsolete but Steve Jobs new right away that Microsoft was dead in the water with creating a touch screen OS based on a stylus. Steve Jobs thought they were a crutch and hindered innovation. Think about it, you have a great tool already and it’s called your hand. Why do you want to take out another tool while doing your work needlessly complicating your task? Have the OS do the work for you by transcribing your hand written text or using gestures to swipe or click on objects. Using a stylus that you have to take out and put away already proved that you failed in your design and adds unneeded steps to the customers journey.
Apple was also a huge proponent of material design which shifted itself away from using heavier user based design elements like bezels, gradients, and drop shadows and allowed the UI more of a supporting role to the content it was trying to provide to the user. Material design is described as : “surfaces and edges of the material provide visual cues that are grounded in reality. The use of familiar tactile attributes helps users quickly understand affordances. The fundamentals of light, surface, and movement are key to conveying how objects move, interact, and exist in space and in relation to each other.” Designers are now shifting elements to a more minimalist design where their customers can appreciate the individual UI elements for what they are and stand for instead of just visual ascetics. We can sum all this up with now UI’s now prefer function over fashion. Fashion in some instances hide useful functions underneath sleek facades like the “hamburger” menu design. We should learn to keep useful functions of our design elements always in the face of our users.
“A user interface is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it’s not that good.” Martin Leblanc, iconfinder.com