Kevin Cheng  

The One

November 21st, 2003 by Kevin Cheng :: see related comic

I installed an OSX skin to my PC laptop using Stardock’s WindowBlinds last week. Tom sent me an IM when I told him this and asked, “Do you feel 100% more creative now?”

Frankly, no, I don’t, but I think that’s because I don’t have the Aqua scrollbars. That must be the reason. Stardock wants me to pay for Window Blinds before I get that particular feature skinned. IF the scrollbars were skinned, though, I’m sure my creativity levels would sky rocket to unprecedented levels. Such is Apple’s power.

What is it about Apple that makes us feel this way?Apple’s aesthetics are so appealing to me, I may finally take the plunge and buy a Powerbook or iBook. What is it about Apple that makes their products so desirable, especially to the creative professionals? Is it faster? Not really. Does it focus more on aesthetics? Plenty of PC case manufacturers are coming out with slick designs. Is it the seamless integration of multimedia? Sure that’s a great feature but not a deciding factor for me.

This inability to define why I even really want a Mac is what I struggle most with. Practically speaking, I may end up simply buying a Tablet PC. I have been a user of Wacom Intuos 2 tablets ever since the second series was released and now use it for drawing OK/Cancel. Having that drawing tablet be the screen, for an affordable price, is what I’ve dreamed of for years. Adding fuel to the internal debate, all the major manufacturers have announced their next generation models.

Jonathan Ive, lead designer of Apple, talks about how the G5 was designed with consideration for both form and function and that the PC case clones only look at the shell. To a degree, I would agree with that. Companies like Alienware have done a great job of making their computers not only easily maintainable with cable management and such but also slick in design (at least to some).

What Ive’s designs, and Apple in general has, that other companies don’t, is mystique. When I walk in an Apple store, every product seems to have an aura. If Apple released an iTablet that was marginally inferior to the PC counterparts, I’d probably buy it.

How do we, as designers, build this mystique into our products? Can we? Or is it, as Tom will discuss, simply marketing ingenuity? And perhaps the most important question before the “how” is “SHOULD we”?

9 Responses to “The One”
Bob Salmon wrote:

I think part of it is getting away from blandness, adding quirk or personality. I’ve recently had to get rid of my beloved Mini and buy a bigger car - a Zafira. The Zafira has lots of neat design, especially in how the seats move and fold so that it can go from 1-7 seats. However, the Mini has character, and devotees nearly as fanatical as Apple addicts. Many Minis have names (ours was called Edith, and our previous Mini was called Timothy - both given by the previous owners). When Minis drive past each other, the drivers wave to each other. The Mini, the Beetle and the Morris Minor all have character; they don’t look like they’ve been designed to be safe (in terms of acceptability) or designed by committee. They’re not just utilitarian - they work fine, but there’s something distinctive about their form, their engine noise etc. (Sorry, getting a bit fanatical here - I can cope with my passing Mini-ownership, just give me time)

Jay Zipursky wrote:

I love Apple products for the same reasons.

I think part of the reason other companies don’t produce the same class of designs is due to their product development methodologies. I suspect many of them do not have a designer involved from the start. Instead, industrial designers, graphic artists, and the like are brought in at the end when it’s too late to influence the basic design. Instead, they are forced to add a cosmetic layer and can never totally cover the poor design underneath.

Quality and elegance have to be designed in from the start if you want “Apple like” products.

Joshua Kaufman wrote:

If it was simply a feature, then yes, companies should definitely build it into products. Unfortunately, mystique isn’t something that can be built into products; it’s unpredictably attained. But I think it’s something that definitely adds value to a brand, often for unexplainable reasons.

Marian Steinbach wrote:

OK, the “tablet PC from apple thing” — it sounded too obvious.

Here is a nice mockup.

Chris Connors wrote:

Here’s another tablet mockup for your amazement and enjoyment:

This guy has a huge array of mockups, many of which have been amazing in their prescience:

Incidentally, word on the street is that the higher ups (read - the one whose initials are SJ) has a general disdain for the tablet form factor, so I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting. But then again, why would they include the Newtonian handwriting recognition?

kc- just buy the PowerBook. You won’t be sorry.

S. Kelley wrote:

What most people perceive as “mystique” is actually something far simpler. Consisitency is a good word for it, but it does not capture all of that je ne sais quoi of a brand. Specifically, the “mystique” is in fact finding familiariarity with a new product. Apple has this largely due to its near-total control over every aspect of their products; from hardware to software. Apple products operate like other Apple products, so a person can find comforting touches of familiarity in a brand new Apple product.

kL wrote:

Even with WindowsBlinds you don’t get smoothly working Expose, or Cmd+, shortcut for preferences in every application.

Kevin Cheng wrote:

No, but I installed TopDesk which does expose nicely. Shortcuts well … that doesn’t make much sense to duplicate all of that when the applications weren’t built for them.

Paul Brown wrote:

I don’t know about the Morris Minor, but both the Mini (assuming that we are talking about real Minis and not BMW’s) and the Beetle were designed by someone who was both a talented designer and a talented engineer. That one person then lead the whole development process, overlaying a single vision on the whole thing.

Compare that with most design processes where engineering reality, ease of use, attractive design, quality etc. are essentially in competition with each other and the end result is the best compromise of all factors. This can often lead to a better final product, but the sense of a single, cohesive “whole” is lost along the way.

Most Apple products have something similar in that they are designed by designers who know the limitations of their field, so (I imagine) conversations along the lines of “we can’t possibly do that” are much rarer and more of the original, cohesive design survives to the end product.

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OK/Cancel is a comic strip collaboration co-written and co-illustrated by Kevin Cheng and Tom Chi. Our subject matter focuses on interfaces, good and bad and the people behind the industry of building interfaces - usability specialists, interaction designers, human-computer interaction (HCI) experts, industrial designers, etc. (Who Links Here) ?