Category: Comment


Windows 8

As a little boy, I used to love playing with Lego. Building houses, ships and cars with Lego was one of my favourite hobbies. And when the time came to move onto Technic, I did so gratefully. My young mind aching to be challenged in greater ways. But anybody who is familiar with Lego or Technic, or building anything for that matter will know that once you’ve reconstructed the same thing once or twice. You get better at it.

You find room for improvement, you find pieces that may be superfluous, think of better ways to build something and think of more elegant solutions. I remember being very firmly told by my friend Alexandre, a senior designer at Honda, who also happened to be a world-class trumpet player.

Before creating. Learn!

Learn from what exists. Learn what works. And learn what doesn’t.

Learn from the masters.

In essence, he told me to build on and respect existing practices and structures in car design before going off on a limb trying to reinvent the wheel with flights of fancy.

The difference between student and professional work and good advice.

I started to think of Alexandres advice recently when I seen the new Windows 8 Operating System. Boy is it radical. It’s fresh and a huge step forward for Microsoft. It has the impetuosity and care free abandon of youthful thinking.

But you see, building a computer operating system is like building anything. It’s only by building, testing, constructing, re-constructing, doing, ending and starting again that a great system evolves. You have to be able to dig deep into the detail first before proposing structural changes.

Trust me with an object as heavily used as an operating system, form is definitely a consequence of function. No matter how smart the interface is. Nothing will dull the novelty quicker than something that doesn’t work properly.

Apple have got this right brilliantly recently with the vast number of OS iterations that both work and function beautifully. The incremental and iterative process used by Apple means that their operating system just works and the fact that it works beautifully enhances the perception that it is beautiful.

I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to see Microsoft do something as Bold as Windows 8. This is a company that has thrown off the shackles of conservatism and embraced radicalism. One could even say it has ‘out-appled’ Apple. I love the strength of the concept, the fact that one Operating system can cross several platforms. And I do rather like the minimal graphic style. The strength of its boldness, has even begun to ask questions about Apple and their ‘skeumorphic’ approach. So much so that their top dog in design – Sir Jonathan Ive has been drafted in to oversee the development of their new OS.

Visually, I must say that Windows 8 is a huge step forward over 7. It is a sensible evolution of the Microsoft Vision 2019 with the breaking down of tasks/applications into mini modules, centred on the screen. This is obviously common throughout traditional desktops, tablets and mobile devices.

Despite the radical appearance, you are still reminded that this is Microsoft and not Apple. As a car designer, I remember Alfa Romeo investing a lot of time and effort to mimic the pleasant thud when you close a car door. Companies like Mercedes and Audi had become lauded for their quality and the door thud was symbolic of their success. Despite their best efforts, Alfa Romeo was never quite able to replicate the same feeling of quality. Kind of get the same impression here.

Microsoft should be praised for their boldness but their execution, in design, isn’t quite on the same level as Apple. The icons for example are a touch on the small side proportionally and more than that they lack that attention to detail that is required. Minimalism is a wonderful aesthetic direction, particularly when executed well. However, what many forget is that reducing an object (or part of an interface in this example) to its most core components means that every element has to have the right depth and attention to detail in its own right.

Microsoft and aesthetics is a bit like Alfa Romeo and quality. With the best will in the world, it’s never quite there. The new Microsoft logo is also testament to this. However, without being too harsh to Microsoft; this is the kind of Operating System Apple should be building and I believe that their rivals in Silicon Valley will be incredibly jealous that their clothes have been stolen by their competitors. Conceptually, it’s quite a bit ahead of the game.

However, before getting carried away with Windows 8. I must return to the original point and heed this warning. The beauty and conceptual integrity of the Microsoft interface will only work commercially if it performs and functions well. It’s what made Windows 95 so popular in the first place.

According to one of my great design heroes Richard Seymour…

“We don’t see beauty in objects as they are but as we are.”

Everything is beautiful to different people in different ways. The most beautiful objects in anybody’s eyes are those that work well, that enhance our lives. As many of you know I never shut up about how much I love my BlackBerry.


Because it allows me to type on the move; to blog, to send e-mails. All effortlessly so!

It’s why I hated the I-phone I had for three months. Because I just couldn’t do that.

You won’t find too many people in love with their operating systems but subconsciously people feel the exact same way.

If Microsoft 8’s cool new concept and layout allows users to interact with their word processors, e-mail, music, Facebook etc with greater ease, then boy do they have a product.

Otherwise, its novelty will quickly wear off and people will continue to flock to Apple.

Time will tell…


Emotive Branding

I have toyed a great deal with this phrase over the last couple of weeks. You see, I am in the process of writing an e-book at the moment. And the title has changed so many times now, I am thinking of just leaving it blank. The e-book will explain the importance of branding and giving some advice on the subject. You see, when I am writing, the subject continuously return to ’emotion.’ Now this is a difficult one. We in the west of Scotland, are not known for indulging in the ‘e’ word a great deal, and its probably a bit too ‘heart-on-the-sleeve’ for anybody that isn’t American as well. That’s before even considering how to discuss the subject amongst calculating business people.

Now, the draft title may change but one thing that remains central in the e-book is that generating an emotional response is central to the branding process. In fact, its the most important thing. When I began to learn about branding, one of the first things I learned about was psychology, understanding the brain and how it works is critical to understanding why certain brands work and why some don’t. I always loved great design but was eager to learn more. Some elements of design worked better commercially than others and I was desperate to work out why. Commercially, the main reason for a strong brand is to be both recognisable and memorable. To build a successful brand long-term, the emotional responses to the brain (not the heart, as many would think) should be consistent. Very few people will take the time to learn your business intimately so like a Shakespeare Sonnet, you have to make the largest impact in the shortest space of time. The only way to achieve that is through creating an emotional response in your communications; be it excitement, happy, joyous, informed, energised etc. The great brands understand what emotional response they want to create and create both products and communications that will convey this emotion. The ones that do it really, really well will know what they are doing and charge you extra for your pleasure (Apple, for example.). The problem is that most tend to fall short, make lots of noise, give lots of mixed signals without consistency and they therefore struggle to gain any traction regarding their brands. And anybody that has a business has a brand, it may not be a heavily marketed effort but anything from your local chippie to you multinationals have a brand. Its just that few would define it as such. The ones that are rock-solid in their consistency are those that develop the best results for their business. The companies that consistently deliver the same emotional response will be more memorable and easier for people to index in their thoughts. Its why engaging an emotional response is the easiest way to build a great brand.

It is as true of personal brands as it is with corporate brands. And interestingly, people may not realise they know this but they tend to be able to feel something that isn’t quite right. I think the perfect example is David Cameron, the man who still struggles to convince a nation. Why? Well, there is no politician in recent times that has conveyed such a mixed range of messages – none of which define him. And for this, people struggle to believe and follow him. Nobody is buying into the Cameron brand because nobody knows what it is. I doubt he does himself. Boris on the other hand is entirely consistent which helps massively when you need a group of people to buy into you. Liking him or believing he would make a good PM is a different question, but a huge number of people buy into brand Boris.

Returning to business. The funny thing is that design is king in all this. The consumer will have made their mind up about your product/service in milliseconds. Having seen your website, met your sales people, or seen your promotional material. The emotional side of their brains will have decided whether it wants to engage with your company before the logical bit even has time to process it. That means you have mere milliseconds to engage. Only the very best understand this and can design accordingly.

Fortunately, we just happen to be one of the few companies that can do this. If you would like to know more about how your brand can engage an emotional response to help your business give us a bell…

Oh and I think I will risk ’emotive-branding’ as the e-book title. Rule no1, be authentic even if the terrain is hostile or is that rule no2?



Building a Premium Brand

Well, it’s been a while but I thought it was time to start sharing some of my thoughts with you once again. I don’t know how many of you seen the Apprentice the other evening. It had, what is usually one of my favourite challenges, to build a luxury brand. Every year, it is tackled with varying levels of success from the candidates. I have a keen interest in this challenge as my company, the loft, is primarily about building premium brand identities.

The one thing that has to be remembered when building a premium brand is that you are not just selling any old product or service to anyone. You are asking the customer to make an emotionally led purchase. One that should resonate with the customer to make them wish to pay just that little bit extra. The funny thing is that this emotion can be absolutely anything and may have nothing to do with luxury. Some of the best examples I have seen recently involve personal fitness. Tough Mudders or Fight Camp are both experiences for the individual where you are going to put yourself through a living hell. A pool of blood, sweat and tears. And guess what, you are going to pay extra for that privilege. It would seem insane to some, but to the right person, it makes perfect sense. The reason certain people will pay extra is because they aren’t buying any sort of training programme, they are buying an experience, the ultimate badge of honour, the knowledge that there are fewer tougher experiences around.

What Fight Camp (in particular) does is massively play up to the image of the ‘ultimate training experience’ in both the experience and the way it is promoted. This is why they have such a strong identity and their product so memorable. It does make me chuckle how four trainers from Glasgow on a limited budget have made a better job of building a strong brand identity than some of the top multi-nationals with much larger budgets but maybe this comparison is an unfair one.

Going back to the Apprentice, it’s a shame Nick, who I am sure gets this, stood by on the sidelines and watched while Adam chucked everything but the kitchen sink into his shop concept. Anything and everything for anybody and everyone are not what premium brands are about. Premium brands are much more exclusive. The hot-chocolate idea was good, very good and with some clever variations would have been quite enough. You can have as many products as you like but as long as the brand has a core feeling, it will always be considered premium.

Message and consistency are what we are always preaching at the loft. Without these, there is a danger of confusion and a muddled identity. In an increasingly globalised and digital world, where it is a survival of the fittest, the only means of survival for Western Companies is to start thinking premium.

Where do we fit in at the loft? Well that special element exists in almost every company. Sometimes it’s quite well hidden. But we know how to find it and once we do, there is nobody better to help you build that compelling case to your audience. Be it in your digital presence or in print.

How do we do that? Well that’s another story for another time…

In the meantime, my money is on Ricky for tonight.

Happy watching…


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Why i-Loved Steve Jobs

Well it’s not very often that you feel the loss of somebody that you felt was truly great but Steve Jobs for me was that person. I loved his passion, I loved his vision and I loved his optimism for a better future. Steve jobs’ work has touched many peoples’ lives in so many ways. i-mac, i-phone, i-pad. In the last couple of hours he has received many tributes. Marks of respect from every side of the globe. From the millions of Apple consumers to people such as President Obama. He has been praised for his technological achievements, his entrepreneurial achievements and now I want to pay tribute to Steve Jobs for everything he has done for my profession, design.

Growing up as a designer, everything you are ever taught at school or University about design in some way has been mastered by Steve Jobs. With Apple as his canvas, he has spent the last 30 years revolutionising our field. Want to know about graphics and packaging? Simply check out the beautiful boxes his products come in and the wonderful use of fonts. Want to know about product detailing? Check out any of the Apple products of today. All of them, beautifully balanced, beautifully finished and beautifully weighted. Want to know about concepts? Simply look at what Apple did to the music industry, they basically re-invented it! With i-tunes and the i-pod, they put the consumer back at the heart of the music industry and changed the way we all listen to music forever. Want to know about powerful branding? Apple is the strongest brand in the world, period. I don’t care what any survey says about IBM or Mercedes. Apple is light years ahead of everybody in building a powerful consistent brand. They don’t have to discount their products; they don’t have to really advertise their products. Everybody knows instinctively what Apple is, what they’re about and why they want to pay more to have one. Apple could make a car, a washing machine or even a plane and people would want one.

And finally, want to know how to make money out of design? Apple is the most valuable technology company in the world. And it is for this that I want to eternally thank Steve Jobs. For giving design real teeth at the board level and making great products as a priority. See great products and great companies are not borne out of dogma or a desire to mercilessly make money; they are borne out of one’s passion for a better future. Making money is simply the consequence when you learn how to do it really well. Most of the time what a creative will produce is the result of passion, a moment of inspiration. And traditionally it is the first thing to be killed in the boardroom. Well Apple changed all of that, be it the first graphical user interface, be it the transparent cover on the first i-mac or even the first proper touch-screen phone. Most of those ideas would have been killed off early in most boardrooms but Steve Jobs and Apple were different. He said yes when most people say no. He stuck to HIS beliefs in making perfect products when many before him would have said no for an easier life. It remains incredibly difficult to innovate and innovate well. Most cowardly hide behind the shelter of what has gone before, but Steve Jobs was a leader. And most importantly he proved that great design is profitable. Steve Jobs showed the true value of great design and how it is just as applicable to the design of a button as it is to the way you actually design the business itself.

Apple really did begin to resemble their owner. And no he was not perfect. He was prickly at times and a tad aloof but ultimately he was a genius. The company he created, although massive, does have a heartbeat. Even Apple’s website tribute to the great man is beautifully designed. Steve Jobs should be thanked for instilling that ability into his team and for showing the world the power of great design. We talk a lot about ‘design with soul’ here at the loft and sometimes its a hard concept to define. But I can think of no better embodiment of that message than Steve Jobs.

Rest in peace Steve Jobs and thank you…



Future Forward

After a great build up, this was Future Forward. Our event for Social Media Week Glasgow on Tuesday evening. We would be building brands for the future, using innovative forms of social media too. It was a full day event. Instead of blogging about the event, we thought we would design this poster charting the day’s progress from pre-event videos to the finalised design work. As can be seen, it was a very, very busy day. We hope you enjoy…

Thank you so much for coming and keep an eye out for a follow up blog on some of the other great events attended during a terrific Social Media Week.

Benedetto Bordone

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Milan, taking style one step further

One of Europe’s design capitals. I must say it was so exciting to return to a city where I used to live. Milan lives and breathes design, everything from fashion to architecture to interior/product design. It was also the week after the famous Salone del Mobile, so the city was still in a particular ebullient mood.

Men’s corporate Style…

One of the things I like most about Milan is the Milanese men’s fashion. In terms of the corporate style, they are so adventurous in their mixing of accessories with traditional corporate clothing and somehow or other, they pull it off. The blazer and handkerchief mixed with smart jeans and jumper. The corporate suit mixed with trainers giving a utility-corporate look and a range of things you don’t see so often here in the UK, such as experimentations of suits in a wider range of colours, skinny ties, cravats, watches worn over the shirt. All very cool and an impressive extension to the regulated corporate look.

Cutting Edge Product Design

It is probably in product design where Milan’s reputation is strongest. There are a host of shops, in Milan’s San Babila area, selling the most creative and elegant products around. Cassina, B&B Italia, Artemide, etc… These shops sell a host of objects, that its safe to say you wouldnt find in Ikea. One of the more interesting pieces was the UK’s very own Ross Lovegrove’s stunning ‘Cosmic Leaf’ lights. We first set sight on these wonderful objects in the new IDEA hotel in Milan. A very smart and reasonably inexpensive fashion hotel based next to the Central Station. The lights are made of a perforated metal with a stunning texture. it is the combination of the texture and biological form that sets them apart from more traditional lighting solutions.

Design Gone Mad!!

One thing we did see in the midst of Milan’s Montenapoleone area was one of the stars of Milan’s design week itself. The Z-chair by renown Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. Zaha Hadid has undoubtedly been one of the designers of the decade, spearheading a very distinctive ‘deconstructive’ style. This modern style is embodied in things like the stunning Abu Dhabi ‘Performing Arts Centre’ as well as the impressive ‘Acquatics Centre’ for London 1012. She has the strongest of signature styles which has, in the last decade, found its way into product design.

Her products all use the exact same aesthetics as the buildings but make greater use of natural forms. This is rare for product designers who tend to stick within a more geometric design language. The Z chair’s sculpted appearance is very smart, very strong and the use of stainless steel lends the design even greater impact.

It costs £200,000. I thought this ridiculous, there may only be 24 pieces being produced but this chair, with very limited functionality is not worth this price. it shows that we are truly in the age of the celebrity designer where Zaha Hadid’s name is now up there with Mark Newson and Phillipe Starque. Yes, the design is impressive but people are not paying for this, they are paying for the ‘Zaha Hadid’ name. The object will not be used as a seat but as something for the rich to show off to their friends. What I find a little insulting is that design of this quality lives in the sketchbooks of hundreds of young unknown designers who could not dream of asking for such a price. I don’t blame Zaha Hadid or anybody in particular I just think its mad.

Stunning Shop Displays

Finally, one of the things that I have always liked about the Duomo area of Milan is that all of the shops have such impressive window displays. They are like works of arts in their own right. We are getting better in Britain, but we still have some to go to beat the Milanese. Elaborate fashion displays complimented with lifestyle products, posters or even theatre props. Some are truly spectacular, and a great way of communicating the brand’s raison d’etre. My favourite this year was Replay Jeans who had basically installed a full jungle into the front of their store. With plants growing (to be honest, they looked more like they we’re dying) in suspended perspex balls, wild leaves and shoots of bamboo all complementing the utility of their jeans. Absolutely brilliant and typical of Milan’s attitude in taking style one step further.

Benedetto Bordone is a designer at the loft | web design Glasgow

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Vodafone Freebees!!

Just a quick post here. I cannot think of anything more mundane to sell than mobile phone tariffs. Luckily Vodafone have used one of the oldest tricks in the book to great effect. Create a loveable character that cannot help but get you intrigued about what they’re selling. Vodafone’s ‘Freebees’ is a nice modern interpretation of character driven marketing. The kind that used to be used with great effect, such as the Tetley Tea Folk. Who as it happens are making a return. How many of us would remember Frosties the cereal without Tony the Tiger? Nice to see Vodafone adding a bit of entertainment which can at times be a very focused segment.

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Building a Brand

“A brand is not a logo. A brand is not a slogan. A brand is not an identity, corporate or otherwise. A brand is not a symbol or a shape. It’s not mail shots, mission statements or mantras. It’s not colours, credos or calling cards. A brand is the total sensory experience a customer has with your company and its product or service.”

Now when most clients approach the Loft for ‘branding,’ we are usually asked to design a logo full stop. Now a memorable logo is a good starting point to introduce your brand. However, in creating a strong brand identity – it is barely scratching the surface. Unfortunately, for most of our clients, small and large, this is where their consideration of branding ends.

Although, larger companies are also guilty of this, this post is written squarely for all those with smaller businesses. Unfortunately, during the recession, the ones that have suffered most have been the smaller businesses who have seen their profits squeezed as their customers have mercifully voted with their feet. The most common scenario I am sure that most small business owners will be aware of is the following. If you have ever quoted for work (any kind of work?) and had your potential client say ‘Well such and such can do it for this price?’ Caring not, whether the product you offer is different, far more labour intensive or you are already offering an exceptional deal that severely eats into your profit margin. Simply expecting you to drop your price because Jimmy down the road can do it 20% cheaper. Such is the nature of the current climate, this situation is not rare.

Now this is not the fault of the potential client, they are absolutely within their rights to bargain for the best deal possible. Furthermore, with more and more people using the internet to shop around, they feel entitled to ask you for the best deal. However ask yourself this, why do we pay more than two pounds for a cafe latte from our local Starbucks? A cafe latte consists of steamed milk and coffee. The actual value of the coffee is probably around 30pence. How many people do you think ask Starbucks to do it for £1.50 because the shop round the corner does it for that price? Exactly, you would be laughed out of store.

Now I am not saying that people are asking the local chip shops for 20% off their fish suppers, they don’t. They do something that is even worst, they just stop going. So how does Starbucks obtain such a position of strength compared to the smaller businesses? Where it would seem frankly absurd for you the hard-pressed consumer, in these tough times, to ask for a small discount from a company that makes close to a billion dollar profit annually. Really, when you think about it, it’s crazy that we don’t.

Furthermore, how can Starbucks make such great margins on every coffee, yet remain so popular?

Well, you can be rest assured that a fair percentage of the two pounds you pay for your latte is pure profit. They really could discount if they wanted too, give the customer a better deal, but they don’t. So why, even though they are completely ripping us off (me included,) do they not feel compelled to sell their coffee at a cheaper price? After much debate, Starbucks would concede the reason you are paying so much for your latte is the ‘Starbucks Experience.’ They would be asbolutely right, it is the brand experience. And, in terms of their branding, it has nothing to do with their logo. And the reason we have no problem squeezing the local businesses within an inch of their lives and not the corporate superpowers? Is that most small businesses pay very little attention to their ‘brand experience.’

This is incredibly foolish on their part as, uncomplainingly, many people will pay extra for that brand experience. But what is the brand experience and how can you use it to enhance your business? Well, the good news is that anybody can create a strong brand. You neither have to be big nor have a massive marketing budget. Size is unimportant, emotions are king. The brands that prosper actually mean something to their audience. They make an emotional connection that ingrain themselves into people’s minds. Once a brand means something to somebody, the price of that service becomes more valuable and a premium rate becomes more justifiable.

Unless your company actually means something to people, it will only ever be a commodity, which means that people will only justify it by the lowest common denominator. Price! Once your company has some emotional value, it becomes a brand. Something respected and something people will pay a premium for. Furthermore, once a brand is at the forefront of people’s minds, as long as they are consistent, they are likely to return to this brand time and time again. Regardless of price, strong brands that are instantly definable are in the fast-lane to our senses, and this makes for excellent business, particularly for smaller companies. Many of us tend to stick to what we are familiar with, particularly in choosing good tradesman, suppliers or stockists, even if they are a litle more expensive.

Indeed, good brands are built on people’s perceptions. “Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind.” For any person who owns a small company, it is important to know what you stand for. What’s the narrative? The rest is in the power of communication and how you accentuate the story. Basically what you choose to show your audience. For more established customers who have a familiarity with your service, they will already have formed an impression of your company based on the type of service you provided, but even that can be measured and controlled, just to remind people that you are the fastest printers in the land or the only tradesman who comes out at weekends. It is important that the seed is planted well and truly in your customer’s heads about what you do and where you stand.

Now in targeting new consumers, you will only really have two ways to make a connection. The quality of your business card, website, promotional material and the impression you give off yourself. Now, I am not going to lie, a lot of your clients will be put off by a sub-standard website/business card. If you want to charge for a premium service, you cannot then give out a business card that suggests otherwise or display a poor website.

To most people, these will be the only bases with which they ever define your brand, so it is important that they stand out and are of good (if possible, exceptional) quality. So the very basics of branding are important. But so is making full use of the senses.

See, hear, touch, taste and smell. Not everybody will be able to extend to the full sensory range, but if you have a product with strong tactile qualities or interesting scents or unique tastes. Use all of them, as it will undoubtedly create a more memorable vibe. When I think of Starbucks, I don’t necessarily think of the coffee, I think of the shop, or the pastries, the environment as a whole. A great brand experience is defined by subtle control of each of the senses. However, even more important in building a great brand in this respect are the people who define your business. People buy off people, simple as that.

For the majority of people representing their businesses, looking and sounding like your brands are the only two controllable factors. So do you actually look like your brand? Does what you wear chime with what your brand wants to say? Does each of the individual facets of your appearance say what your brand wants it to say? Every aspect from belts, shoes and bags are a way of expressing your brand. Simply wearing expensive stuff won’t necessarily work. If your brand’s young and funky- be young and funky. If your brand is super corporate, then be corporate. If your brand is built on good solid workmanlike values, then dress accordingly. There is no substitute for the truth. Furthermore, body language is just as important as dress. With regards with what you say. Know your narrative; be able to portray how this sets you apart from your competitors. Have anecdotes and tales that support your story. Think of stuff that will make a connection with who you are speaking too.

And finally, in building that strong brand, consistency is key. Whatever you’re communicating, make sure you’re communicating it consistently so the brand identity doesn’t get muddled. Be it face to face interaction, or brochures or websites. These are just links that stand between your brand and your audience. However, each of the links is important; any inconsistencies will damage the brand in people’s minds. The bigger your business, the more links there are to be controlled- furniture, staff, uniforms, ad campaigns etc. But to build a strong brand, you must have something worth saying in the first place. Storytelling has never been more important. Clever marketing is no substitute for the truth; it is a subtle suggesting of it. It is there to remind an audience of why you are valuable not to deceive them. Marketing for the sake of marketing is unlikely to enhance the value of your brand but having a rich story that informs, entertains and inspires your audience will.

It’s the difference between having your company respected like a strong brand, and not treated like a worthless commodity.

Benedetto Bordone is a designer at the loft | web design Glasgow

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A victory for design over dogma!

Contrary to most designers. I am not a Mac user. I own a Blackberry and not an I-Phone. I have an HP Desktop and Sony Laptop, not an I-Mac or I-Book. Apple’s products are very impressive, but they have just never been my thing. Personally, I feel my first generation BB Bold may not be as good a phone as the I-Phone 4, of that there is no question, but is an infinitely more stylish and interesting object to own. And I consider the I-Book to be criminally over-priced for a laptop. A premium of 20-30% for a better laptop is understandable. But a doubling of the price to own a computer that is technically no better than its competition and aesthetically only marginally better, is something I would never contemplate. Indeed, the only Apple product I have owned in the last ten years has been the first generation ‘Shuffle’ which accompanies me to this day. So I am not exactly an Apple aficionado

In addition to what is written above, I find the whole ‘Apple being a creative person’s brand’ tiresome. Yes they are in one way. However, the majority of creative people prize individuality ahead of being part of a ‘creative clique.’ The more Apple products become the mainstream, the less distinctive they become. Furthermore, Apple are becoming more and more apolitical in their attempts to fight their corner. Attacks on Adobe regarding Flash for the I-Pad smacks of arrogance and highly political posturing by Steve Jobs. Indeed, Apple’s recent transformation from the anti-establishment brand to the all-conquering force, they now are, just makes them a whole lot less likeable. They remind me of the Kings of Leon in a way. Most of us who initially loved the Kings of Leon devoured the first couple of albums when their music was interesting are now aghast at the money making machine they have become. Finally, if truth be told, from an aesthetic point of view, their products are just not that special. From the I-Pad, to the I-Phone to the I-Pod to the I-Book. They are just boxes. Boxes with radiused edges. Indeed, most of the actual shapes could be modelled with primitive shapes on any 3D CAD programme. Beautifully finished boxes but boxes just the same. They are flattered by the lack of competition stylistically from the majority of their competitors. As I stated earlier, I am not an Apple aficionado, far from it. However, I do absolutely love the way the company has placed design at the heart of its strategy. Putting it at the forefront of the argument, highlighting its relevance. And above all, championing the incredible power that good, innovative design can have in a profit-driven world.

On May the 27th 2010, Apple overtook Microsoft as the biggest tech company on the planet. 10 years ago, it wasn’t even a tenth of the size. It was a significant moment, and I would argue, a victory for design.

I only found out recently that Steve Jobs is actually a designer, by-trade. Not an engineer nor a developer or even a professional entrepreneur as previously thought. But a designer. As a bi-product of his role, he is incredibly knowledgeable in all these fields but his first instincts are to think as a designer and his whole company is an embodiment to the power of design. It comes as no surprise that he is mad about the Beatles. The one music group, above all others, that has married creative genius with unsurpassed commercial triumph. The Beatles were passionate about their music, the creation, their songs. The thrill of the journey. First and foremost, they had an ambition to make great music. The success, wealth and monetary value of their creation was not at the forefront of Paul McCartney’s mind when he wrote ‘yesterday.’ But by concentrating on writing the best song he possibly could on this and all other Beatles songs. He was consequently satisfying the long-term commercial ambitions of their music (whether this was sought after or not is unknown.) Steve Jobs and Apple’s philosophy is identical, by making the most innovative and interesting products in their sector, they are also ensuring immediate and enduring commercial success. By weaving the values of innovation and style into the Apple DNA, they are ensuring that the Apple company succeeds in the long-term. Reminiscent of the Beatles and not some flash in the pan pop star.

But what does Apple do that makes their company so successful and leave its opponents so flatfooted? Principally, it is the whole company’s attitude to design, creativity and innovation. From the top down. This is embodied in a number of ways.

Firstly, they are ruled not by technology but by their own imaginations. Apple strive to make products that are better for their user, better to use, nicer to look at, more sophisticated etc. This fundamental paradigm sets them apart from the majority of their competitors who develop technologies and disparately try to wrap products around them. Apple’s user-centric approach is to principally make a better product for the user and subsequently find or develop the appropriate technology to make that happen. This approach allows for an impressive list of innovations from transparent computer cases on the original I-Mac to the I-Tunes concept that revolutionised music to the Apps store to touch sensitive screens on the first I-Phone and on and on. Apple are consistently one step ahead of the game. The Apple ‘Greatest Hits’ catalogue is bigger than everybody else’s, building huge brand credibility and value. The buzz with Apple products has endured a long time and it seems to be growing all the time.

Secondly, I am sure they benchmark their rivals products, but they don’t slavishly copy them. There will be instances where they have borrowed good features from their rivals, yet built them in cohesively with the rest of the product and only used it if necessary. The majority of the time they are being replicated not replicating. Indeed, it is almost embarrassing to see companies like RIM try to replicate the I-Phone touch-screen with the Storm or Sony mimic the keyboard layout of the I-book on the Vaio and especially Windows replicating so many features of the OS operating system such as the floating taskbar on Windows7. In fact Microsoft, its oldest rival, is a little like a rudderless ship at the moment, all over the place trying to keep up with Google in one respect and Apple in another. Taking me to another significant point of difference. Apple has limited itself to a small number of products. It has only competed in fields where it can. Unlike Microsoft, who by massive diversification, create multiple products badly. Microsoft should be mimicking Apple’s approach in concentrating on what they do best. Not doing what they cant do and then lazily mimicking key product features from their competitors.

Thirdly, innovation. Most recite it, few actually do it. True foresight and innovation allow a company the opportunity to differentiate itself from its competitors. If done well, it can open up massive opportunities for growth and profit. In Apple’s case, the I-Pod with I-Tunes basically stole the record company’s industry from under its nose in the most brutal way possible. Record companies sold Compact Disk’s. Apple, on the other hand revolutionised the music industry. They didn’t give the consumer a CD but an easier way to buy/listen to music putting thousands of CD companies out of business in the meantime. By looking long term at a scenario and by redefining the context, Apple changed the music industry forever. They are now doing the same to the phone market. Indeed, I do genuinely believe that if Apple were ever to make a car that they could sink a good number of our major car companies who are renown for working back to front in the creation of cars. By innovating, and innovating properly, that is making products that are better not different just for the sake of it, but better. Apple has massively increased its business’s profit. Indeed, the music industry example highlights the danger for companies that don’t innovate. They are sitting ducks waiting to be picked off by more savvy competitors from other sectors such as Apple.

Finally, style. In terms of discipline, visual coherence and finish. Apple’s products are one step ahead of its competitors. As I stated earlier, in terms of style. I am not personally a massive fan of the geometric, clean cut and simple Apple aesthetic. Yet as a designer, you cannot fail to be impressed with the way it is executed. The most important part of our jobs from a stylistic sense is to communicate the truth. All artistic figures such as artists and poets obsess about the truth, how to find it, how to portray it well. As a designer, we must communicate the truth and do so effectively, with clarity and consistency. All of Apple’s products achieve this very successfully. Although they are just boxes, their products are always beautifully finished with excellent materials and stunning attention to detail. Furthermore, the discipline to ensure cleanliness and simplicity with all their products is awe-inspiring. Apple have decided that in this age of ’information overload,’ they’ll strive to make very complicated products as minimal, uncluttered and simple as possible. This is their philosophy and this discipline extends to every individual product, their marketing, their website etc. All creating a strong and unequivocal message about what Apple is.

Indeed Apple’s dominance over its rivals in so many ways may make us consider how its rivals can properly compete in the short to long term. Basically, Microsoft, Samsung, Nokia, Sony, etc should copy not what Apple does but the way it does it. They should focus more closely on their own segments without diversifying all over the place to make a quick buck. Innovate and build products that are more desirable to the consumers and finally take advantage of Apple’s new found position as the establishment brand. By designing more distinctive products, that are truer to the company’s values, Apple‘s rivals can steal a march on Apple. Indeed it is an interesting paradox that the ‘creative persons’ brand by achieving such significant sales success may alienate the one group of people that has contributed most to its success. As the commercial world become more infatuated with its new products to the detriment of distinctiveness and individuality. The designers, journalists, photographers, writers etc may go elsewhere. Furthermore, clean cut minimalism may be Apple’s way but it isn’t the only way to design a product. Diluted me2 products just embarrass the status of respectable companies. I would love to see some products that experiment with more organic forms in their surface language or more technologically advanced sci-fi inspired computers. There are hundreds of alternatives to the beautifully finished metal box. But the company must have that universal vision and that can only be provided by the inspiration of a designer.

As It is design, that has been the biggest driver of Apple’s success. Innovation and creativity are synonymous with the designer’s brief but it has only been through empowering designers at the top level that the company has succeeded. The vision is the designer’s one and its important as it is borne of a desire to make great products, not simply make money. Apple is a formidable force because every member of the company from the sales staff to the technicians to the engineers buy into the designer’s vision. By focussing on making great products and not great profits, Apple are laughing all the way to the bank.

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Helping the designer to see clearly!

Everything we do and experience as individuals directly and indirectly influences our decisions, our beliefs and our ideas. Every action, experience and decision helps form a part of what drives us, what motivates us, what excites us and inevitably forms our characters as human beings. However as designers, what is all important. Is our ability to see. Not look, but see! A designer’s vision is their most important asset. Not their ability to draw, or communicate ( however these are very important attributes) It is the ability to see what the rest cannot. To anticipate what is coming. And to be able to understand why something looks right or not and why a product is successful. The winning designer is generally the one who can see the clearest and can act on their enhanced foresight. Now there is no correct way for a designer to form or inform their vision. They can throw themselves into one thing and spend their whole lives in tribute to one form of aesthetic, or a particular subject matter etc. Alternatively, they can constantly experiment and take pleasure and education in more obscure sources. Da Vinci felt he could not communicate the human form until he could properly understand every part of how it worked and functioned, it was his atomical studies that informed his sketches. Endowing him with the ability to communicate the human form in the most truthful way to him. It is this approach which is required by designers who don’t simply want to recreate what has gone before. His study and enhanced knowledge of the human body allowed him to portray the human form in a unique and enduring manner. The character and wisdom of Da Vinci can be seen in his atomical studies and have lasted centuries.

However, when a designer stops looking or studying their field, they are in trouble. It happens in every field. In music, the pop star that begins to live in a bubble tend to lose the initial appreciation of the beauty or angst of life that compelled them to make music of honesty and sincerity that helped them to grow in the first place. The kind of music that people want to hear. It is for this reason that the most genuine artistic expression occur early on in people’s career, afterwards it is quite hard to escape the bubble. Bringing me to life drawing, I have been doing this for a number of years, however, I cannot think of any type of exercise that can help a designer more. In terms of understanding proportion, composition, tone, light and shade. It is among the most challenging subjects to communicate. Furthermore, the skills learned in life drawing are amongst the most difficult for a designer to obtain through normal means. It is like running on the treadmill and somebody turning the speed to 20 kmh. It is hard at first, but you adapt and improve at a much quicker rate than your average weekly jog! Life drawing is turning the treadmill to 20. The results, however, include an increasing ability to see the world in a more interesting/informed manner. To take pleasure in more obscure sources and communicate them in the design process. Basically to see what everybody else is missing. Creating more interesting design work in the process by opening up limitless avenues of creativity. Furthermore, once comfortable with the basics of proportion, composition, shade and so on. You can experiment, find ways to communicate it differently or see it differently. Amazingly important when you are in a creative field.

The designer should be the person, in a project standing, at the top of the mountain being able to see further than everybody while being fully aware what is at their feet. They must provide some form of vision if a product is to succeed. It is reassuring for a designer to know that they can have their heads in the clouds with some mind blowing piece of design work at their disposal, or be able to toe the commercial line and tone it down if needs be. But they must have that inspiration in the first place. The designer with their eyes closed is doomed to stagnation of design quality and will suffer. However, those that avoid the bubble, constantly embrace life, its subject matter and its evolution are likely to continue to create design of great creativity and quality. Life Drawing is a good place to start seeing again…

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