Adaptive Path’s blog had a thought-provoking post a couple weeks ago titled “How many of your team’s ideas are in the iPhone?” This caught my attention, since visual voicemail was a concept I pitched to Ericsson several years ago. The crux of the article, however, dealt with the potential empowerment of interaction designers due to the iPhone’s success.
“What sets our mere concepts apart from this final product however, is a company with leadership who has the fortitude to take the risk, find the budget, and push the technology for the single cause of designing compelling user experiences. Apple got it right.”
This statement should be tacked to every conference room whiteboard and CEO office wall. More than any other product released so far (and there have been many, from OXO GoodGrips to Dyson vacuums and Target pill bottles), the iPhone is a beacon, illuminating the benefits of good design and the resulting commercial success. Could it be any more apparent that “good enough” is no longer enough?
“For my own concepts, the valuable lessons I’ve learned are that I could have done a better job navigating internal politics as well as communicating the advantages of the concepts. In some cases, I was unable to translate my passion and conviction about experience design into reasons to build the products.”
I understand the sentiment, but I think she claims too much blame. The obstacles that can stymie innovation are not trivial. Apple was fortunate to be in a position that allowed them the time needed to design and engineer the device. There wasn’t a race to be the first to market. They also had the money to support the effort. Most companies aren’t afforded this luxury. In the race to beat the budget and the competition, design is compromised. Perhaps most importantly, Apple has a CEO that puts a major emphasis on design. This seems to be a rare trait. A designer must carry a lot of weight within a company if they are to beat the org chart. I can’t blame a designer, and certainly wouldn’t denigrate their abilities, for failure to amass that degree of influence.
“If your company still needs convincing of the value experience design brings to your product and you’re in need of more funding for staff, training, etc., I encourage you to create a case study of the iPhone and pitch it to your CEO. With the rumored 1 million iPhones sold in less than a week, now is the time get what you need.” (sic)
I can’t blame Kim for her optimistic perspective. I sincerely hope that many designers can take advantage of this advice. However, I expect there won’t be much influence seen outside of the portable device market. Most companies will sport an attitude of disparity—that is, they won’t see a connection between the iPhone and their own products. “We create (insert any product here, e.g. desktop applications, kitchen appliances, etc), not mobile phones,” or, “We don’t produce consumer products.”
Without a supportive corporate culture, designers will not feel confident in taking such actions.