Apple's Design Lesson: Don't Do What We Do

Last Updated Jun 27, 2011 2:47 PM EDT

Want to send a designer screaming from the room, hair on fire? Give her this challenge: "We want to be the Apple of [insert industry here]."

Not that being able to design products and user experiences as well as Apple isn't a noble goal. It's just that to do what Apple does requires an organization devoted and funded for just that purpose. In fact, trying to be like Apple is likely to cost you business, not bring more in.

Trying to replicate another company's success is one of a number of sure-fire ways to fail at design, says Sohrab Vossoughi, founder and President of Ziba Design. He makes the pivotal point that great design isn't just about making things fun to look at and delightful to use, but is also a reflection of the company's purpose and core values.

"An Apple-like experience delivered by a company that isn't Apple can't be sustained, because it's not backed up by Apple's culture and resources. The result is an inconsistent experience that feels disingenuous to customers, and shatters their loyalty. This is why 'me too' innovation almost never works. Not only does it make you look like a copycat, it shows you don't care about your own brand enough to express it in your user experience."

The remaining four ways to fail at design, according to Vossoughi, are to:

  • Refuse to change any other part of your business.
  • Design outside of your innovation space.
  • Try to design for everybody.
  • Compartmentalize design into isolated tasks.
Read his complete post on HBR.org., Five Ways to Fail at Design.

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(Photo by Ben Chau , CC 2.0)
  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.