I recently read an article entitled, “You Cannot Innovate Like Apple” and I’m appalled. It would seem Alain Breillatt, the author, is ready to erect a golden apple idol at the base of Mount Product-Sinai and worship the false god of Apple. “We are not worthy,” he essentially says in the midst of detailing the unique processes in Cupertino. Yes, later in the article he attempts to inspire the author with a yellow-brick-road-to-success, but this comes after demoralizing pronouncements that you cannot get there from here.
My retort: Apple failed and then Apple succeeded. Their failures have been well documented, and they have had successes based upon the vision of a few. Was that a magical roulette wheel that landed on the green 00 a couple of times, or was that a passionate genius that briefly sparkled and flared out. Only time will tell that.
Where the article was correct:
- Pixel Perfect: Creating an exact image (model) of your User Experience (UX) is the only way to ensure it your customers would LOVE it. Describing it via documents and specifications creates a fuzzy picture, which cannot be confirmed by anyone.
- Iteration: The article refers to “10 to 3 to 1” to say that Apple creates 10 mock-ups and eventually narrows it down to 1 final concept. Altia refers to this as “paint over paint”, where you cannot expect to arrive at the Mona Lisa without making touch-ups on your canvas. Your design process and tools should allow for that easy iteration upfront.
- Passionate Designers: If you believe it’s more important to define your Operating System (OS) than your UX, you don’t understand that the customer will never see, touch, smell, or taste your OS … and [s]he will likely praise or trash your product based upon the [dis]pleasure of interacting with the user interface. Get the people and processes to mould a winning User Experience within a flexible modeling tool so it may port to any OS after you’ve confirmed your customers’ pleasure.
- Focus on Perfection: I recently spoke with an Apple manager who reflected on automotive companies. “They do it completely differently than we do. They pre-determine a launch date, which is when it must go to market. We take our products to market when they are exactly as we want them. Therein, automotive companies will ship product that they know isn’t great.” A significant difference: one company has the mindset to pare down the model to the best design; the other races to market with as much as handcoding as time will permit. The former focus on perfecting the UX model upfront helps to improve efficiency by as much as 75%, reduces costs by 90%, reduce development time by 33-50%, and can double the product’s profit.
Where the article and Apple had it wrong:
You might be able to predict a good idea based upon personal experience and opinion, but believing that as a substitute for User-Centered Design is hubris. Don’t get me wrong: your design must start somewhere and that should be based upon a hypothesis. As Alan Cooper said, “If you don’t start with presuming [what the users want], it… means that every user won’t like it.” But as Pressman’s study notes, “… most costs are associated with ‘unmet or unforeseen’ user requirements and other usability problems,” and showed that 80% of the software life-cycle costs are associated with this phase of rework. Study after study shows upfront improvements based upon user testing save time, cost and money.
So can YOU innovate like Apple? Certainly.
Is it easy? Honestly, the effort associated with Apple’s approach is easier than the effort and COST associated with late changes. What does it take? Vision, the process and the tools to instill the User-Centered Design approach — along with the passion to follow it through to its successful end.
And with that Apple mentality today, you’ll keep the change management doctor away.
_______________________________________________________________ “A Strategy for Optimal Design of Embedded Systems with Human Machine Interfaces” (Abowd et al, SAE International 2004-21-0037)