Apple is a victim of its own success

In 1997 Steve Jobs and Jony Ive called a small design studio and challenged them to deconstruct the existing Apple desktop and make it into the product of the future. They were facing bankruptcy and were desperate to create something consumers could love.

I was fortunate to be part of that design team and the result of our collaboration with Apple was the multicoloured iMac. And with that Apple climbed out of its financial hole.

Fast forward to this week and Apple has experienced its first ever Q4 profit decline since the iPhone’s introduction a decade ago.

Sadly this doesn’t come as a surprise. Apple is a victim of its own success.

Design was the last throw of the dice

It was by no coincidence that when we received that call in ‘97, this was also the year that Apple was facing a bleak future. Steve and Jony knew that they needed one final punt at creating something so exceptional that would save them from defeat. They were willing to do anything to get people to love Apple.

In this case, that ‘anything’ would involve laying down the gauntlet to my team (whose design experience was mainly rooted in the music and fashion industries) to go wild, to experiment as much as we desired, and to create something as different as possible to what was already out there.

Soon after their briefing call they shipped over metals and plastics for us to deconstruct and inspire the creation of this new desktop. The goal was for it to become the centrepiece of every living room.

When the design was complete and I saw the first ever iMac, I knew that our work had helped to set Apple so far apart from other brands. The creative freedom Steve and Jony encouraged during that project was what made it possible for them to go on and build a brand that was truly revolutionary.

Innovation on the backburner

Over the past decade Apple’s once supernatural brand has been starting to fade. Why?

Because Apple has been at its absolute best when it needed to pull a rabbit out of the hat. There’s something about having your backs against the wall that gives people and brands the creativity and desire to go way beyond what they think is possible.

With Apple’s meteoric success has come boredom, and their once captivated fans are now eyeing the brand’s never-ending ‘updates’ with increasing cynicism.

Complacency is the enemy of innovation

Maybe Apple’s declining success is the shot in the arm it needs to get back on track. But instead of sitting back and watching all its prior accomplishments amount to nothing, it must seek the inspiration that only comes when you know you have nothing else left to give.

In ‘97 this desperation lead to two of the most influential people of all time asking four young and unknown designers to turn their fate around.

Apple has to get back this mentality. It must replace complacency with a passion to do whatever it takes. If it doesn’t it will become yet another once beloved brand that fell by the wayside.

After all, no brand is safe from the giant reach of mediocrity.

04 February 2019

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