Good Design: Apple Gets The Picture

Apple Computer Inc.'s new iBook laptop has the buzz of a hot product. And if it lives up to the success of its big sister, the iMac, it will soon be boosting Apple's profits and market share. Steven P. Jobs, of course, deserves credit for reviving this once-great icon of a company. But rebooting would have been impossible without Apple's product designers. Today, the successful marriage of technology and design is one of the key ingredients to business success. In fact, the faster technology moves, the greater the need for design that connects it to the needs and desires of ordinary people.

New maxims rule the world of product development: All things that can be digital will be digital. All things that can connect to the Internet will connect. So thanks to digitization, the Net, and cheap flat-panel displays, a wave of products is pouring forth into the economy. Everything from phones to refrigerators is becoming interactive, and the design of that interaction between product and consumer is critical.

Even one design company can make an enormous difference. Palo Alto Products International designed the first Palm Pilot, the latest Palm VII, the Rocket eBook, and the iToaster. The Palm VII connects Palm users to the Net. The eBook is an electronic book. And the iToaster is a cheap Internet appliance that, again, connects people easily to the Net. Another example is New York-based Razorfish's redesign of Charles Schwab's Web site. Within months, Schwab became one of the great successes in E-commerce.

In a period of fast change, good product design can help bridge the gap between the uncertainties of new technology and the practical and emotional realities of people's lives. Good design can't guarantee commercial success, but great design improves the odds. Smart companies such as Apple know this.

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