On Design Ave., Apple's No Backseat Driver
One Can't Leave Cupertino, Calif.-based Company Out of Picture
When Discussion on 'Masters of Design' and Innovation takes Place


by Joe Leo, Columnist


COMMENTARY: (9.26.07)-- In Fast Company magazine's annual "Masters of Design" issue, the focus this year is on the power of design and how companies can succeed with the right formula in check. Some companies put design at the forefront--can you say, Apple Inc.--while others make it last on their list. Without the right formula however, design doesn't mean a thing.

Magazine editor Robert Safian, in his editor's letter, poses the question, "What does design really contribute to an organization's bottom line?" What's ironic is his answer to the question: namely two key words. (We'll give you one of them... jobs).

"In a global marketplace where price competition and commodification have slashed margins and 're-engineered' jobs, it can be easy to peg what designers do as an indulgence--style over substance, form over function," says Safian.

Steve Jobs himself re-engineered the once "beleaguered" Apple Computer, Inc. and used design, plus of course, innovation, to bring the company-now-known-as-Apple Inc. back to number one (your own opinion) and the newly-minted iPod line and recent iMac redesign only prove this fact.

Apple combines style and substance and incorporates function into its form. We all know that Apple Inc. leads in the design department and everyone takes a backseat to them. (Apple's no backseat driver when it comes to the design department).

How can you argue to the contrary when--in their cover story with design guru Yves Behar--there are numerous references to Apple, along with odes to Steve Jobs, and even the household name of Jonathan Ive... the better known of the two "Ives" (at least, in the Mac arena).

Remember, this annual issue is devoted to the "Masters of Design."

After a quick introduction on who Yves Behar is, what he's accomplished in a nutshell, and what his big break was (after lecturing to Coke about design, they made him responsible for revamping the design aspect of the company), the focus shifts briefly to Apple.

In her cover story, contributing writer Linda Tischler writes, "Despite the rhetoric now in vogue across the corporate landscape, that kind of full-throttle engagement, in which design plays a role in everything the customer sees and feels, exists in only a handful of companies..."

At the top of the list? Apple, Target, and Nike. Coincidence that they're all pseudo-partners?

What's especially intriguing is Behar's analysis of the market. Being Fast Company's ultimate master of design this year, he says that 99% of companies don't put a focus on design, and in a bold statement, says?

That the 1% of companies that do focus on design--for instance, Apple Inc.--will leave those others trailing behind. Behar believes that those 99%, "Over time, they will fail to connect to consumers in a relevant way and become obsolete."

Ouch. Wasn't it market analysts who said Apple should sell itself and get out of the business? Oh, that's right. It was one analyst in the market who's eating his own words. Michael Dell.

Just two weeks ago, Dell company execs had a bold strategy for bringing themselves out of the doldrums. And that plan involves? Apple. No, not really, but rather, modeling their business and marketing strategy over formerly beleaguered Apple Inc. (See that story here).


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