If you ask analysts, they would have varying opinions on what to credit for Apple’s success. Some say it’s because of the company having established a pretty much unshakable brand status, and commanding loyalty from its customers. Others say it’s mostly down to its premium pricing. Some even go so far as to give all the credit to its founder, the late Steve Jobs. Others are more specific, citing Apple’s ability to come up with clean, dependable and quality products. However, if we are to be more precise about it, this would mean that the success of Apple is also hinged heavily on product design.

Why The Apple Design Is So Successful

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In this article, we will discuss the Apple design principles.


Apple counts “design” as a foundation principle – the starting point of the entire product development process. It all started with the vision of Steve Jobs, when he founded a company that will make computers. He was not about to settle for just any design; it had to be better than good. In fact, the design had to be “great”.

A CNN story had the world’s best designers picking the 12 best designs in the last century (in celebration of World Industrial Design Day 2015) and two of them were by Apple. The first was the Apple Mac (1984), which “seamlessly combined outstanding software and hardware into an experience”. The second was the first ever iPod, which redefined and revolutionized what they world knew of an mp3 player. No doubt, many would insist that other Apple products deserve to be on the list, such as the iPhone and the iPad. And who could blame them for thinking so? After all, Apple has almost become synonymous with innovative design.

Some of the most notable and bestselling products that have come out in recent decades are from Apple, and the main reason why they were such a huge hit? Their design.

  • Apple II: This is basically the Apple product that started it all. Sure, there was Apple I before it, but the Apple II stepped it up by becoming a personal computer with an expandable memory, color video graphics, point graphics, memory graphics, and gaming paddles. By adding expandability features to it, it gave users more control and customization power over it. Color graphics in the Apple II easily set it apart from other companies making computing devices. One of the key design points of the Apple II is its sound circuitry, which features a toggle circuit that emits a click through a line-out jack or a built-in speaker. Another is its internal video display generator.
  • Mac: For most of the computing world, the Macintosh – or the Mac – was what started it all. The graphical user interface used in the Mac, as well as its monitor, keyboard and mouse, made it a worthy personal computing successor to the Apple II. This is also one of the reasons why it was such a big hit, particularly among graphic designers. Soon, everyone wanted that “beige personal computer” for themselves. Of course, this was followed by many recreations of the Mac, but there is no denying that the first one made the most impact, if only for starting a new trend and opening new doors for the business computing world.
  • iMac series: With the iMac, Apple did away with the tower that has long been associated with the Mac. This resulted to a more compact and space-efficient computing experience, without compromising its computing power. This series of computers provided users with an all-in-one personal computer, with built-in stereo speakers and dual headphone jacks. It is also credited for being the first to have USB ports. Soon, the iMac was released in several fun and flavorful colors, to cater to those looking for more character. The later versions of the iMac also become considerably smaller and slimmer.
  • iTunes: Considered to be one of the best and most innovative software to come out in the recent half a century – and from Apple – iTunes changed the way people listened to, stored, and shared music.
  • iPod series of products: This pretty much gave a much-needed facelift to the quintessential mp3 player. It can store hundreds to thousands of songs and was later on tweaked to become an all-encompassing multimedia player where music, videos, and apps can run. The best part of the design? The ease of use that it provides users. It all started with a touch-sensitive wheel, and evolved into a touch-sensitive LCD screen in the iPod Touch.
  • iPhone: Smartphones were never the same again when Apple launched the iPhone, which was initially dubbed as the “Jesus Phone”. It would then go on to spawn a line of products, with the iPhone 5s taking a major leap forward by becoming the smartphone that can replace a personal computer with its functionalities and features. One of the things users liked about it is how it was designed to have access to a wide range of cheap, and even free, applications. Of course, today, that may be up for some debate, but there is no denying that when it comes to smartphones, iPhone is one of the best.
  • iPad Air 2: Once again, Apple took the world by storm when it introduced its tablet line, the iPad. However, one of the best releases of this series is the iPad Air 2, since it was designed as the thinnest iPad so far, at only 6.1 mm.
  • Apple Watch: Smartwatches became hugely popular in the past several years, and Apple got in on the game by producing the Apple Watch, its more recent release. It acts more as a health and fitness monitor, which is ideal for users with an active lifestyle or those that are looking for a sleek, stylish yet simple and functional health monitor.

What are the exact reasons for the success of the Apple design, and why are many of its competitors are trying – but most of them failing – to emulate it?


Groundbreaking. Pioneering. Enduring. All these words apply to the Apple design. One cannot discuss the success of Apple – the company – as a whole without touching on its design philosophies and sensibilities. They would not have been able to have established a cult following, especially among artists and designers, if they are not able to show something solid and, dare we say, earth-shattering, in the field of design.

1. Systematic Product Development Process

Apple follows a process for product development that can only be described as logical and systematic. There is an order to everything, and that principle also applies on how it comes up with products. Considering how many of Apple’s products have become icons and are still commanding great patronage (and sales) to this day, it is obvious that this system works.

Design is done during pre-production.

Apple is particular about the design phase being during the pre-production, and not post-production. All the design details are formulated and ironed out even before it is placed into production, so it is clear that they have a clear vision on how they want the product to turn out.

This simply means that there is no trial-and-error going on here. While other manufacturers seem to perform design functions throughout the product development process, Apple strictly does everything at the beginning. This is to avoid confusions and veering away from the original vision of the product.

Apple designers are designing for themselves.

When Steve Jobs started creating products, he put himself in the shoes of the customer. He was the “user” of the Apple product that they will be creating. This is a slight shift from the usual practice of engineers and designers creating products for someone else. They are designing something that they will actually want to use, and will use, once it has been produced.

In the same way, engineers have made a habit of designing products around a certain technology that is available to them. In short, they are designing for a technology, not for the user. At Apple, they are designing a product, not because they can, but because they actually want that product and cannot live without it.

2. Substance over Form

Consumers are easily convinced to buy something that they deem to be pretty or beautiful. Style and appearance are, after all, the first things that register to the naked eye. Thus, it is the one that first gets a response. That is part of human nature. However, consumers are also becoming smarter, preferring to look beneath the surface. That is what turns buyers into loyal customers.

According to Steve Jobs, “design is how it works, not how it looks”. He was particular about how the final product would look, physically, but, more than that, the main point of contention is its functionality. Does it work? Does it deliver exactly what the user is looking for? Does it perform as it is expected to?

One of the pitfalls of new companies coming up with new products is wanting to come up with one that looks great, without really seeing if it works. On paper, it looks like the next best thing to come out in recent years, and the marketing even promises that it is so. However, it ends up falling short of expectations.

The focus of Apple design is the full integration of software and hardware, without claiming that it can do everything (and is good at it). It recognizes its shortcomings and instead focuses on what it is very good at.

For example, the iPad does not have USB connectors or external disc drives. Other laptops and notebooks do. The design team over at Apple may not have included these two features in the iPad, but it did make sure that the device performs a specific set of tasks very well, while remaining very user-friendly and intuitive.

3. Quality above all

Ask Apple users why they stick to Apple products despite the fact that there are a lot of other, newer, and certainly cheaper alternatives out there, and they will give you a lot of reasons, most of which are centered on design.

A Simple Aesthetic

As mentioned repeatedly in many discussions and analyses on the Apple design, one of its defining characteristics is simplicity. More than being flashy or eye-catching, Apple designed its products to look clean, simple and straightforward.

Visual simplicity is being practiced by Apple, and this is apparent in the design of its iPhones and iPads. They look clean, the interfaces are free from clutter, and the fonts are elegant and clean as well.

When Apple designs a good-looking product, you can tell that it really is good-looking. Other brands and manufacturers shamelessly copy the design features of Apple products, and they are rarely able to do it right. This is partly a credit to how Steve Jobs instilled within the Apple industrial team an attitude of perfectionism.

Apple creates designs that instill “pride and ownership”. Apple products are instantly recognizable at first glance, and they have now become status symbols of sort. This is another proof of how iconic Apple’s simple designs are.

Great Attention to Detail

Part of the reason why it takes a considerably long time for the design teams at Apple to come up with new products is how they pay a lot of attention to every detail of the design. In fact, many long-time Apple users even get surprised once they realize that even the tiniest details in the Apple product they are using is meant to accomplish something.

For example, in the more recent versions of the Mac laptop, the internal fan speed has been programmed to automatically slow down once the voice dictation feature has been engaged. This is so that it can hear your voice better and more clearly. For sure, this is information that is unknown by many Mac laptop users, but that is just one of the many proofs of how the creative people over at Apple are detailed about the design of their products.

Intuitiveness and user-friendliness

When it comes to understandability and ease of use, Apple successfully integrated these into its products. Apple is heavily credited for introducing the graphical user interface, where users can pretty much do everything in one place, and monitor or track their progress via that interface.

Apple created products that are easy to understand, so that new users rarely, if ever, consult user manuals or guides. Operations were made to be discoverable via menus, and everything can be recovered, in case users committed an error during operation and want to reverse them to an earlier time. In short, users were accorded control and power over the operations of the devices or products.

Granted, lately, there are many criticisms that Apple products are becoming increasingly difficult to understand, learn and operate. However, compared to its peers, Apple remains to be a company that puts great premium on ease of use when designing its products.

4. Apple designs for the future

Apple is a pioneer when it comes to design. It is known that the design team of Apple starts working on a new design two years early. That is quite a head start, considering how the competition is just catching up. So Apple introduces a new, cutting-edge design, competitors try to copy it, but by the time they are able to, Apple is already hard at work – and even more than halfway though – another breakthrough design.

Consumers would naturally want something that is advanced, which is why they would prefer to stick with Apple products instead of the more “outdated” ones.

5. Design is a continuous process

You will notice that Apple does not really invent new products frequently. Apple focuses more on reinventions or recreations, looking for the weak points of an already existing design and rectifying that, making it better.

The mp3 player has already existed when Apple created the iPod; it just came up with a better version of an mp3 player. Tablets have already been in existence when Apple came out with its own version, the iPad. Similarly, the smartphone is not an Apple creation. It’s just that Apple successfully revolutionized the concept of a smartphone when it launched its iPhone.

This only goes to show that the design team of Apple is working tirelessly to come up with a design that will make things better and easier for users. Certainly, this level of commitment is part of the reason why the company commands such fervor loyalty from Apple users.

Much of the credit for the Apple design goes to the Apple Industrial Design Group, the company’s industrial design arm. If you are wondering who thinks up all those details about the appearance and the overall look and feel of Apple products, they are the ones responsible for it. They are also the team in charge with the design of Apple products’ user interfaces, packaging and even major architectural projects. They are basically in charge of anything involving designing. Their efforts and ingenuity have been repeatedly recognized and, in 2012, they were even named as the Best Design Studio in the past 50 years by D&AD, a global association of creative, design and advertising communities.

It was originally formed by Steve Jobs but is now currently headed by Chief Design Officer Jonathan Ive, who has done so since 1996. It is reportedly a small group, with the core team composed of only around 20 designers. No doubt, at this very minute, these creative geniuses are hard at work, conceptualizing and designing the next Apple product to hit the stores in the near future.

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