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Inside Apple's design machine

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on October 2, 2005

I received this extremely thoughtful letter on innovation and product design on and why Apple may have responded as it did last week to the Nano-storm. It’s from Omar Khalifa who used to work at Apple. Here goes:

“In today’s pressured product development environment Apple’s problems are not at all unique. However, one would think Apple’s response has to improve if only to ensure customer loyalty and better financial returns on its products.

Why are such failures not surprising? Today’s product development cycles are incredibly tight, complex and unforgiving. The parallel development of code, electronics, packaging, global suppliers, regulatory approvals and marketing plans invariably squeeze any allocated testing time at the end. Issues with uncertainty that surface in this environment will usually favour a “good enough to launch” decision.

Given that product innovation can so easily be replicated today in the marketplace, missing deadlines by even weeks can make the difference between market leadership and being relegated to being a follower. Apple is certainly very sensitive to its positioning in this regard.

Also, today’s products run on very thin ROI’s and margins which means any sort of major hiccup like a recall can completely de-rail a product’s financial success. One could expect that the slow response will have been partly due to someone’s spreadsheet. However, what is not appreciated often enough is that the customer care and reputation costs can outweigh even production costs in a wink. This holistic view is missing in many organisations across many industries.

When I was at Apple we had two built-in checks to ensure that everyone was well tuned to customer feedback. The first was called “the out-of-box experience” where customers were literally filmed opening and setting up a piece of Apple equipment. Many a red faced engineer went back to the drawing board after viewing those.

The second was to have product managers sit on the customer care phone lines over the first few weeks of a new product’s launch. This was also a very effective way to gauge issues and to feed them back quickly and effectively to management.

I am confident Apple will get the balance right again, but it has never been more difficult to do so - nor as necessary.”

Wow. This is brilliant analysis. It also provides a look at what Apple is doing to get close to the customer, exame the consumer experience and get its product design and innovation right. CEOs, innovation champions, managers, designers, marketers—everyone trying to build creative corporations please take note. Omar’s got the insight.

Reader Comments

paper machines

June 30, 2008 5:21 AM

I am really annoyed by being asked to "bring" my payment to the cashier. It is another example of the improper use of "bring" when the word "take" should be used.

People who get paid for writing copy for advertising and marketing should find another career if they cannot used correct English. You can also hear this every day from TV and Radio "professionals".

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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