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Inside Apple's design machine

Lessons from Apple's Nano storm |


| Stealing intellectual property.

October 02, 2005

Inside Apple's design machine

Bruce Nussbaum

I received this extremely thoughtful letter on innovation and product design on and why Apple may have responded as it did last week to the Nano-storm. It's from Omar Khalifa who used to work at Apple. Here goes:

"In today's pressured product development environment Apple's problems are not at all unique. However, one would think Apple's response has to improve if only to ensure customer loyalty and better financial returns on its products.

Why are such failures not surprising? Today's product development cycles are incredibly tight, complex and unforgiving. The parallel development of code, electronics, packaging, global suppliers, regulatory approvals and marketing plans invariably squeeze any allocated testing time at the end. Issues with uncertainty that surface in this environment will usually favour a "good enough to launch" decision.

Given that product innovation can so easily be replicated today in the marketplace, missing deadlines by even weeks can make the difference between market leadership and being relegated to being a follower. Apple is certainly very sensitive to its positioning in this regard.

Also, today's products run on very thin ROI's and margins which means any sort of major hiccup like a recall can completely de-rail a product's financial success. One could expect that the slow response will have been partly due to someone's spreadsheet. However, what is not appreciated often enough is that the customer care and reputation costs can outweigh even production costs in a wink. This holistic view is missing in many organisations across many industries.

When I was at Apple we had two built-in checks to ensure that everyone was well tuned to customer feedback. The first was called "the out-of-box experience" where customers were literally filmed opening and setting up a piece of Apple equipment. Many a red faced engineer went back to the drawing board after viewing those.

The second was to have product managers sit on the customer care phone lines over the first few weeks of a new product's launch. This was also a very effective way to gauge issues and to feed them back quickly and effectively to management.

I am confident Apple will get the balance right again, but it has never been more difficult to do so - nor as necessary."

Wow. This is brilliant analysis. It also provides a look at what Apple is doing to get close to the customer, exame the consumer experience and get its product design and innovation right. CEOs, innovation champions, managers, designers, marketers--everyone trying to build creative corporations please take note. Omar's got the insight.

03:16 PM

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