So, who else is doing it right?

It seems like Apple is continuing to dominate the public’s perception of good product design. Certainly they have got it right when it comes to the creation of strong brand identity (both through 3D and 2D design), consumer loyalty and simple good looks. But it makes me cringe to think of pulling up an Apple product in an interview to use as a benchmark of good design. Yet, even on a forum of IDers it seems that we are constantly referring to Apple products when citing design successes.

So, my question is, who else is doing it right?

Great question.

I think what Apple has that is so rare is the complete package. It seems they are just on point in every way, and so it is intimidating to even think of someone else. The other thing they have is that they are so Apple, in the way that Nike is so Nike, and BMW is so BMW. The difference being that Apple has transformed the very definition of their company to that of good design and coolness. Even in the Microsoft commercials they say “Macs are just for cool people”… with competitors like that, who needs friends!

The more I deal with lazy engineers and companies who want to innovate without design leverage to alter existing manufacturing capabilities, the more I am amazed at Apple’s engineering team, who can execute Ive’s amazing designs after hundreds of iterations.

Apple dominates with computers, phones and mp3s but there is a lot of great design outside that industry. The world is more than consumer electronics and not everything can be a flat piece of aluminum with a generous corner radius.

Radiological instrumentation - Philips and Accuson attention to detail in more than impressive.
Contract furniture - Any of the big players and many smaller manufacturers are always battling with good design.
Kitchen - Oxo and Viking are low hanging fruit for companies doing it right.
These are the easy ones, the list is very long.

And there is more to positioning strategy than great design. Design can just as effectively be used to support strategy as being a strategy in and of itself.

Blu Dot

I agree with you about Blu Dot. I’ve been really impressed with their work. I can’t remember where I read it, but they seem to have good customer service also.

For home kitchen utensils you can’t beat OXO. The handles that IDEO came up with for them are great.

I may be going out on a stretch here. But I have been really impressed with Nintendo’s innovations in the gaming market. They were able to radically change the way games are played by taking them back a step in the graphics/realism department and providing a better user experience. This includes both the wii and the ds.

ouch, that was all Smart Design in the beginning. :slight_smile:

I am ashamed of my self. :confused: I was thinking of IDEO’s work on OXO’s trash cans.

Personally I think it all comes to down to brand identity. Apples success is based on creating products that never stray from their design language. This allows the consumer to instantly identify what the product is and who made it. This is also why you see so many spoofs on the internet of iProducts, not only does apple understand their design language, everyone else does as well. They have carried that language through ever aspect of their business creating recognition and an identity that is unmistakable. But you also have to back it up with rock solid performance so that you do not lose the consumers loyalty, thus creating brand heritage. Other companies have achieved this just at a much lower level. Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Chris Craft, John Deere, Harley Davidson, just to name a few. It all comes down to creating an emotional connection between product and consumer and then continuing to create that euphoria with every product you produce.

Perfect example, and their ID work is edging on complete anti design. So minimal, the products are just there. I love what they are doing… but the Wii needs a proper web browser, what the heck!

Sure, Apple is frequently quoted (including by myself) as a “good design to follow” but a few thoughts here-

  1. Guaranteed, almost every designer, marketing guy, CEO, etc. looks at Apple and says “gimme some of that”. The core however is so often lost. To often it gets interpreted as make it it white/black/shinny … the Apple philsophy is waaaaay beyond that and extends to both systems design, user interactions and experience and an integrated philosophy. But that is perhaps another conversation…

  2. I’d think it would be interesting, given the context to also look at who is the Apple from the past (Braun? Ford in it’s early years? Herman Miller in it’s heyday…). Who is the next Apple that gets that interconnectedness of it all + design? My vote is Samsung. Perhaps 10 years ago it might have been Nokia though they’ve surely lost it by now… how about 5 years from now…?

  3. Overall, I think we can all agree, that it’s a combination of things. Design Philosopy, Customer Service, Marketing, Engineering, etc… what are those parameters that signal a company is “doing it right”. (sidenote - see my previous post on Porter Air - they’ve got it all going on). Porter Airlines - Branding and Experience Design done right!


Actually I’d agree here. Though with Nintendo I get the sense that they are more out to innovate in game play rather than in the product package it is sold in (in an Apple sense, OSX and not the MacBook). The physical product design aesthetics appear to be more led by Japanese culture than conscious design innovation (no material revolutions here), and as for the functional aspects - anyone who has played with a ds for more than an hour, or tried playing a game on the wii that requires all of the buttons on the remote to be used knows that ergonomics are not a primary feature here.

That said, I think that Nintendo is pushing in the right direction (compare the ds lite with the original ds for example) and I am really interested to see what they come up with in the next few years, especially as they appear to have the other parameters that rkuchinsky was talking about (

) to ‘do it right’.

Noticed this yesterday in the NYT in regards to luxury brands in the current economic climate. They’re doing very well apparently. However, not everyone is pleased with Apple being put on such a high pedestal, and I have to say I agree with this point. I love Apple: the brand, Apple: the innovator, Apple: the product, but this rings true today.

Not everyone in the luxury goods business sees technology as a revolutionary — or even recent — influence.

Alain Dominique Perrin, executive director of Richemont, which owns jewelry and watch brands like Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Piaget, said Swiss watchmakers had always embraced advanced technology in manufacturing.

But he questioned the durability of any change in cultural perceptions of luxury. While the company’s brands have integrated technology in some unusual ways — a new watch from Jaeger LeCoultre, for example, doubles as a car key fob — Mr. Perrin said he saw little similarity between a fine Swiss watch and some arriviste icons of the technology world.

“To me, these products are worlds apart,” he said. “Who would consider handing down an iPhone, or even a Swatch, to their child or grandchild?”

The whole article: Luxury Brands and the Case for $4,000 Sunglasses - The New York Times

Are there currently ANY brands out there putting things together that you would want to pass down to grandchildren? The only thing I can think of are things I can’t afford. Vintage cars, watches, motorcycles, etc. I’m probably not going to give my Cuisinart Mini Prep to my son when he turns 35.

I’m going to probably do a huge post here of some companies that I think are doing interesting work, but for now I just want to bring up a fav of mine: Umbra. Sometimes they hire big names like Karim Rashid, but a lot of their products don’t carry any big name, I’m assuming they are done in-house. All-in-all, their catalogue is filled with well-designed products, well-made and very affordable. Just like with cars, I’m more impressed with someone that can design a beautiful garbage can that retails for $15 than one that retails for $500.

I am writing my thesis on how a recession effects the role of design. It seems that for a business to stay ahead of the game and to remain dominant in the market they have to trust design and the intuition in the designer. History seems to show this happen again and again. Hopefully therefore Apple and other such companies will continue improving their designs as well as being under a lot more competition. So hopefully as long as businesses continue to entrust and empower the role of the designer the more easier it will be to give good examples of good design.

I think I will post my thesis on the forums at some point; not for an ego trip but because some of you may find it quite interesting.

Would love to see that thesis, good luck with it. I think one thing to watch for is that it is not just design that is leading the charge. Having good partners in business and manufacturing are critical for design to be successful.

Thanks Yo,

It certainly seems that businesses have come to under stand that this time around. It’s learning from history. Just look at how important were the designs of Loewy, Drefuss, Teague, Sakier, Geddes etc etc in helping to get America out of the great depression. It is also interesting to see an argument of capitalism vs democracy within the design world, and well, the world. Obviously recessions are terrible, but some great design does come from them. Apple won the mp3 market as they released the iPod in the dot com recession. And so was my original point that there should be, probably in the next 18 months some designs which will go down as being design ‘icons’, not just because they are well designed but because consumers will have substantiated emotional attachments to them because they came out of the benefit of the storm.

There is a brilliant quote that I have to share here;

“In the perspective of fifty years hence, the historian will detect in the decade of 1930-1940 a period of tremendous significance…doubtless he will ponder that, in the midst of a world-wide melancholy owning to an economic depression, a new age dawned with invigorating conceptions, and the horizons lifted”.
Norman Bel Geddes, 1932


  1. Guaranteed, almost every designer, marketing guy, CEO, etc. looks at Apple and says “gimme some of that”. The core however is so often lost. To often it gets interpreted as make it it white/black/shinny … the Apple philsophy is waaaaay beyond that and extends to both systems design, user interactions and experience and an integrated philosophy. But that is perhaps another conversation…

Over the last 6 months I can’t help notice a few signs that could potentially lead to Apples down fall. While Apple’s systems may be top notch I also feel it’s where their weakness lies. And it’s all down to the fact that they’re developing such closed platforms, first there was the problem with google talk, then spotify, certain app’s cannibalising apple products etc… All of a sudden Apple’s ‘1984’ ad starts to look a little ironic.

It’s something I’ve always criticised about their hardware, can a product designed to keep users out truly be sustainable? But when it comes to the software, and you’re releasing phones that rely on 3rd party app’s, you want the developers as happy as possible and there’s a lot of people in the tech world pissed off with Apple right now.

I’m not taking anything away from Apple, they are brilliant at what they do and it’ll take a lot to knock them off the top spot but it’s an interesting weak point that could be (should be!) exploited by competitors.

Yes, its true, essentially all of the app developers will move to google where the pay is better; isn’t that simple business? Seems pretty ridiculous and screams of cockiness. Apple seem to have become too big for their boots. I can’t help but think Jonathan Ive must be a little bored by now. The complete dominance of Apple seems a little like ‘visual socialism’; though of course completely unintentional, similar to the Super Normal theory. Big ideas that seemed to lack real structure.


Absolutely agree on this one, IMHO it’s not only about having a great product, also about its branding, marketing, service, etc.

Another (start-up) company who I think is doing great is Senz Umbrellas. You may have seen or heard about their innovative umbrella (if not google it). Of course you can’t really compare them to Apple, but in a way I think they’re on the same path. I think what is great about this umbrella is that they completely re-invented this product by seeing the latent problems which people have during use, and turned them into opportunities for improvement. As I’m Dutch - yes we have a lot of rain - I can see a lot of trashed umbrellas because they simply break when there’s a storm. So they came up with some kind of construction and shape that this problem doesn’t occur anymore. And since it has an oval-like shape, you also don’t have the “problem” of getting stuck with your umbrella between a wall and a light pole when walking on a pavement.