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Design that Moves Business: Apple’s “Overnight” Success! (Part 3)

Posted on Saturday, Nov 22nd 2008

By guest authors Charley Bush and Kathy Hwang of 3Strand Innovation

DESIGN-DRIVEN BUSINESS – From Creative Idea to the Marketplace

In the first two parts of this series we explored how a design-driven business prioritizes the user experience and holistically incorporates design thinking into all parts of the business. The last part of our discussion traces how Apple’s commitment to a design approach resulted in marketplace success

So what really happened when Apple threw its first iPod design into the market? Was the iPod an overnight success? Not quite.

The first iPod was released in 2001. Within a year, Apple had revised it to improve ergonomics in a second version. But it wasn’t until the fourth version in 2004 that sales started to take off. By the beginning of 2005, Apple was on its fifth version of the iPod, now in color (see example 2).

(Example 2 – iPod versions and Apple stock growth)

It definitely took a few years and Apple’s continued investment in many product revisions. Yet by the time they started to lead the market, Apple had already released the iTunes store and the iPod Mini. What competitor was going to be able to match that, let alone catch up to the learning curve?

A design teacher once told us, “There is mothering and fathering a design. Anyone can father a design and get it on the marketplace. But mothering it to be successful, now there’s an art form!” The path to innovation certainly falls under mothering a design.

Robert Brunner, former head of Apple’s design group, said, “Apple’s designers spend 10 percent of their time doing traditional industrial design: coming up with ideas, drawing, making models, brainstorming. They spend 90 percent of their time working with manufacturing, figuring out how to implement their ideas.”

A few key lessons we’ve been able to take away from the iPod:

1. Make sure the initial design goals are based on how the product or service enables a customer to be who they aspire to be; don’t just make a box that holds 10,000 more songs. Make it easy, fast and fun for customers to get to their music. Let them explore new music and have it be an expression of their personality.

2. Get your entire team to buy into these goals and work collaboratively across disciplines, using the design process (which includes both blue ocean ideation and many iterative revisions) to bring the initial concept to market success.

3. Make something you want to brag about having…even better if you have white headphones that brag for you, without having to say a word.

Design is not magic and while Apple is the go-to example, they’re not the only company to increase their revenue and stock price through design-driven business. The British Design Council has been researching the impact of design on UK business for over a decade now and has found that on average, design-alert businesses increase their market share by 6.3% through design. Some manufacturers reported having increased their market share by 100%. In other words, design helped them either completely take over a market or create a new one.

-The example 2 chart is from Bill Buxton’s book, Sketching User Experience: getting the design right and the right design. All rights reserved.
British Design Council

This segment is part 3 in the series : Design that Moves Business: Apple’s “Overnight” Success!
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Incredibly, actionably insightful. Satisfying to see the guest authors reference one of my touchstone business ideation books, Blue Ocean Strategy. 🙂

Bob Kirk Sunday, November 23, 2008 at 7:45 AM PT


We didn’t realize you were one of the authors of “Blue Ocean Strategy,” as the title only lists W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. Now we really have to read the book. It’s been on our shortlist for a while.

Charley Bush and Kathy Hwang Sunday, November 23, 2008 at 4:19 PM PT

That was fantastic information. I never came across the history of Apple for its i pod. Thats a good article..

Offshore IT Outsourcing Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 10:31 PM PT