“Are there any sites or brands, inside or outside of your industry, that we might use for design inspiration?”
This is a question we ask clients when kicking off our discovery process. The answers help us understand how the client assesses their current branding and where it might lead in the future... (usually). The answer can also point us to sites or functionality we’d never consider… (sometimes). However far too often, the question elicits the tiresome response, “Can it look like Apple?”
Before my beard sprouted gray hairs, I may have taken that direction more seriously. Now my response is, “Ok, let’s move on to the next question.”
Why? I’m a designer. I should love Apple. In fact I do love Apple. I’ve been working on a Mac since the Quadra, baby. Why wouldn’t I want to design a project that’s inspired by products I’ve enjoyed nearly every day for the past two decades?
The answer is simple, “Your project can’t look like Apple because you don’t make products like Apple.” Heck, most of our clients don’t make physical products at all. And that's okay.
The reason Apple is Apple is their passion for design. When the world’s computers were beige boxes (including their own), they went all in on creating something else. Every material, every nuance, every interaction is meticulously worked, refined and tested. Ideas pushed. Boundaries broken. Are there flaws, bugs and imperfections? Of course. But they get worked out – that’s design iteration in practice.
Throw gobs of hours toward honing a product inside and out, then guess what, it’s amazing! That’s the point.
When you have products that look like this... drop them on a stark background, add minimal type and get out of the way. You’d be a fool do anything contrary. For that very reason, I refuse to deface my iPhone with a case or slap stickers on my MacBook Pro. It’s an insult to the craft.
As a digital designer, it’s damn near impossible to deliver an experience in the same stratosphere as an Apple product. Look, many of our clients come without asset libraries, the budgets to conduct a photoshoot or the ability to implement a branding strategy. Affordable stock imagery or mandated icon systems are only going to get you so far. (Yes, you can design good stuff with these types of assets. Just trying to prove a point here.)
When a client asks to draw design inspiration from apple.com, they do not know what they’re really asking. Truth be told, most aren’t fond of the site design at all, it’s too minimal. Since sometimes seeing is believing… check out this screenshot. As of the writing of this post, it’s Apple’s homepage.
Not what you remembered? For good reason, all the product imagery has been hidden – seven of the nine content blocks.
There’s nothing to it, right? That’s my point. The request to be inspired by Apple might be best filed as this... a desire to represent the very best of that client’s offering. Which is a way more positive way to end this blog post than I would have expected.