is the Ipod the best design ever? It just celebrated it’s 5th birthday and I have to admit, I think so. I say it’s the design Icon of this century maybe any century. What do you think?

It’s hard to say, it is certainly the most iconic product to date from Apple, a company built on icons (OG Mac, OG iMac, OG iBook, Titaniums, Cube, G3, G4, G5…)

Out of all of the design icons I can think of off the top of my head:
Pavilion chair, OG VW Beetle, New Beetle, Waring Waterfall blender, Cuisenart Food Processor, Dualit Toaster, OG Chantal tea kettle, OG Swatch, Skagen, Nelson Clocks, Eams chairs…)

It is certainly one of the very few that has saturated the public’s awareness, and is reasonably accessible to many Americans. I think a lot of it rests on our own individual definition of a design Icon. To some the Tizio light is the bomb…

fyi… the new issue of wired has a interesting article on the conception and development of the original 1G ipod. its about 5 pages and a good read

Bold statement Mark! You might be right…

iPod is a cultural phenomenon
iPod OWNS the MP3 market, despite a constant onslaught
iPod has influenced an untold number of products
iPod has spawned a new business model for the music industry
iPod leverages design to achieve high margins

When it all adds up, it kinda leaves our old reference-standards (Good Grips, Snake Light, Aeron Chair, Talkabout, Graves for Target, Razr…) in the dust!

HOWEVER, should we be proud of the PROCESS by which iPod was created (according to the Wired article?) A fast-follower product that involved little design process and no users? Where the CEO made the final decision based on options brought in by engineering? Where PM’s made key decisions about user interaction? Where ID was brought in to style the product in the end? What message does that send to corporate American executives about how to create breakthrough products?

After further consideration, I don’t think iPod is the "best design ever, instead I’d suggest that it’s the “most influential design ever.”

This reminds me of the two “Most Innovative Companies” studies:
Business Week asked executives for their votes, and Apple came out on top. But Fast Company actually applied a methodology, and WL Gore came out on top. Likewise, I think if you asked people, they might say that the “iPod is the best design ever” but in reality, “the best design ever” is probably something else. Hmmm… That would be a good IDSA type award…

I must agree with CG on this. He’s articulated the reasons for disagreement very thoroughly.

I agree and disagree with cg.

First, I agree that the iPod is definitely not the ‘best design ever’. I would even dare to say that it was not the design so much as the way the technology was packaged that sold the iPod originally. Now the design is the defining factor used to sell and differentiate it from new competitors.

Second, I have to vehemently disagree with cg on his suggestion that the iPod may be the ‘most influential design ever’. The iPod is merely five years old, has only had a mere five minor cosmetic revisions (5th Gen) and has primarily spawned a slew of uninspired imitators with hoky product names. I may dare to venture the Apple as a company, and it’s product offerings as a whole, could be a contender for the ‘most influential design company’ ever. Then again, the competitors have history and legacy on their side: Braun just to start the conversation for one!


Both of those support my “most influential” argument. The iPod has influenced itself, and others, to an extreme.

Rather than argue that it’s not, let’s point to possible better candidates! Proof’s in the puddin!

Good point CG. If not the IPod what woulod be the single greatest design of say, the last 100 years? Since this thread focuses on the “Business” of design perhaps we can use that as the filter. I know that when I need to make a point regarding the effective design to a client or audience, the IPod is the single best example of a business succes that can attributed mostly to design.

“best design ever” in and of itself? no way. not even close.

the single layer menu structure is weak, the touch wheel is buggy, the materials are highly vulnerable to wear, the ear buds are a joke, and on and on and on…

…but include iTunes and a multi-million dollar marketing strategy on steroids and there’s no way you could call it anything but “the best ever”.

design made the iPod good. design business made it kickass.

there’s a difference. no?

In terms of the “business” of design, Sony is the penultimate example. The argument could be made that Apple, and others, are all late copiers of Sony.

Apple and ipod are an excellent example that you don’t need to be first to market, you need to have the best combination of features. Remember to put it in time context: music downloading was judged illegal, Napster et al were legally shut down, BMG and Sony concentrated ownership of all music. Apple then introduced ipod and cheap legal downloading.

Also, outside of North America, the ipod isn’t quite so ubiquitous.

An excellent example of design saving a business, globally, in the last ~100 years, is the Mazda Miata / MX5. Mazda was entering bankruptcy when the little roadster was introduced. Copied almost immediately, most auto manufacturers now have a 2 seater sport thingy.

The best design ever of the past ~100 years, in almost every metric, is the AK-47 Kalashnikov machine gun.

The AK is probably the most copied, as well.

Concretebox, that certainly is an unexpected take on an Ipod accessory.

All I know is that my lil sis is bothering the heck out of us to get her one for x-mas…what sucks is that

  1. she asked for it in advance…so no surprise factor.

  2. She wants the free online engraving service which is only available online…so even if we told her we couldn’t get it for her…it wouldn’t have the engraving on it…

I dunno…my the Ipod has become the new wallet, purse, shoes, coat,…its a bare necessity…

Ipod = necessary
Ipod = mandatory?
Ipod = synonymous with music
Ipod = the new video game system everyone wants but doesn’t need

Ipod = more not less…more vids sounds pics…files…just more
Ipod = celebrity…U2
Ipod = you or personalized…custom Ipod jacket…

Interestng discussion.

‘Best design ever’ - No.
‘Most influential design ever’ - No.

We have pretty short memories. How about the wheel? Pretty influential. The telephone? The automobile? The toothbrush?

In more recent history, I think it could be argued that the Sony Walkman of the '80s had a similar affect to that of the iPod in this decade. It was also synonymous with music and ubiquitous with youth culture and people on the move (commuters, people working out, etc.). It allowed people to be on the move. It was as strongly coveted by consumers then as the iPod is today. It also spawned accessory industries and a bevy of me-too clones.

In the 25 years since the Walkman, technology has taken tremendous leaps and Apple has done an absolutely brilliant job of integrating the music licensing with iTunes and the actual iPod itself creating a nearly total music solution. This wasn’t even possible when the Walkman launched. The iconic white color and white ear buds add to the mystique. It’s beautiful and elegant. Great design? No question. Influential? Absosutely.

Maybe a better question is ‘what will be the enduring legacy of the iPod?’ Will it endure the way the Thonet Model 14 chair has endured? Will it continue to evolve and dominate our lives the way the telephone has? Will it end up in a box in your basement with your Walkman collection from the '80s, a forgotten legacy of design and technology?

… I would say none of those items were influential designs, but they continue to be very influential inventions… societal changing even. The ipod is not on that magnitude, as pointed out, it is not even the first digital media player, it isn’t an invention, it is a design.

The first automobile is not the most influential design of an automobile. You could argue that would be the La Salle series from the early 30’s which was the first to integrate the fenders into the car creating the package that cars still use today 80 years later.

I agree that the ipod is on the same level as the walkman. Really it is an evolution of portable music from the transistor radio, to the walkman, to the ipod. I was wondering when the ipod would become the “Kleenex” of its market, the way the walkman did. My brother works part time in a music shop and a woman had a question about her “ipod”, he asked to see it and it was a sony product.

The iPod won’t be as long lasting as any piece of modern furniture. There is research in the industry working on multiplying memory by 500 to 1000. Those kinds of advances don’t effect things like chairs… as you suggest, it might evolve the way the telephone did. A blackberry is pretty far removed from those original wall mounted, wood cabinet, telephones with the tethered earpiece.

I think the idea of transporting your media with you (audio, video, and stills) will be long lasting. Apple didn’t invent the idea, but they sure popularized it.

The Ipod would have been forgotten by now if it wasn’t for the company that stood behind it so strongly. No design is that omnipotent alone.

The Ipod is a stronger business and marketing story than of design, but our profession is benefiting from it nevertheless

And here’s a quick reality check: “The best design ever” is still yet to happen. In fact it always will be.

That’s why we’re all so enthusiastic about what we do and why some other professions have already peaked and lost interest. For instance, the best year for accountants was 1929… they’ve been dull ever since.

However, the “Ohmibod” product may be a sign that we’re already approaching the cultural peak…

Perhaps not the “best design ever” but I do think the original iPod brought new meaning to design in the consumer audio products sector. Without the most features, capacity, etc. one thing the iPod had to stand on was design. Both UI and ID.

In that spectrum I do think the iPod has made a huge impact and affected the design of almost every consumer electronics product thereafter.

Kinda like the first ID (Loewy?) application to a commodity consumer product like a vacuum cleaner in the (?) 20’s.