It’s impossible to look anywhere these days without noticing how profoundly Apple has influenced design and computing interfaces. From automobiles to medical devices, architecture to product packaging, the influence of Steve Jobs and Apple design guru Jonathan Ive has rippled through society and altered the way we think about products.
"Apple has radically changed consumer expectations about design," observes Mathieu Turpault, partner and director of design for Bressler Group, a consumer products design firm that has worked with Thermadore, Black & Decker, Schick, and numerous others. "Consumers increasingly demand products that are functional but also attractive."
Sleek, clean minimalistic lines and a simple-to-use interface are emerging as the new normal. Apple’s iPod Nano, for example, has no moving parts and iPhones and iPads rely on a handful of gestures—pinching, swiping and tapping—to control a mind-boggling array of functions. "Our products are tools and we don’t want design to get in the way," Ive explained in a May 2012 interview in the U.K.’s Telegraph.
Make no mistake, Apple’s fingerprints and mouseprints are everywhere. Earlier this year, sales of white BMW automobiles surpassed silver, which had stood as the top-selling color for more than a decade. The enormous success of the iPhone and iPad has also transformed the interior of vehicles, including user interfaces. "Automobile companies now charge a premium for technology packages so you can use your phone and iPod in the car," Turpault points out.
Meanwhile, medical devices are undergoing a radical transformation. Blood sugar, blood pressure, and heart monitors already connect to iPhones and iPads, and a slew of other—and sometimes more sophisticated—devices are now in the works. At the same time, retailers are revamping stores to eliminate point-of-sale terminals and use display space in entirely different ways while Web designers and advertisers embrace Apple’s minimalist approach.
But nowhere is Apple’s design influence more profound than in the computing and consumer electronics industries. For more than two decades, desktop and laptop computers were designed for function over form. Drab, unattractive boxes littered offices and desks. Confusing and sometimes perplexing interfaces—designed by geeks for geeks—were the norm. Jobs and Co. raised the bar by marrying seemingly diverse engineering and design elements.
Moreover, "Apple has stretched the boundaries of what was considered producible and cost effective," Turpault says. In fact, over the last few years, one executive after another has approached Bressler Group with the request to "design the next iPhone of their industry."
Walter Isaacson, in the bestselling biography Steve Jobs, chronicled the former CEO's obsession with design and his affinity for the Bauhaus Movement. Jobs believed products should be built and packaged cleanly so consumers knew they were high-tech. The concept originated with consumer products manufacturer Braun and its designer Dieter Rams, who created eerily similar products in look and feel a half-century earlier.
All of which has some critics arguing that Apple has pilfered design concepts from Braun and others. Alas, this largely misses the point. These days, all design is borrowed. In the end, no company has ever influenced design trends more than Apple. What’s more, its influence will almost certainly grow in the years ahead as multitouch and gesture-based interfaces meld with today’s increasingly powerful devices.
Concludes Turpault: "Today, consumer electronics manufacturers and numerous others are following in Apple’s footprints. Design is no longer an afterthought."
Samuel Greengard is an author and journalist based in West Linn, OR.
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