Apple Designers Tell All: How to Make Your Product Sexy

There was a day when advertising was all you needed to push a product. You could buy a bunch of space on TV, the radio, and in magazines, and everybody would be talking about you in no time.

But not anymore.

Today, if you look at the brands that are doing really well — the ones that are really crushing it — you’ll see that many of them don’t stop at remarkable advertising. They make a remarkable product.

The product isn’t just good. It’s sexy.

Several brands make great examples, but there’s one company more than any other that’s at the top of everyone’s mind. It’s the company with the sexy logo, the sexy ads, the sexy products, and the sexy packaging:

Apple.

Sure, they have great ads, but there’s more to it. What goes through your head when you look at a new iPhone 4.0 or an iMac?

If you’re like most people: pure, unadulterated lust. You have to have it.

So how do they do it? Is there some special secret?

Well… what better way to find out than by going straight to the source?

Use Only the Best Materials

In a recent interview, Jonathan Ive, Apple’s Senior VP of Design had this to say:

“A big part of the experience of a physical object has to do with the materials…understanding, that preoccupation with the materials and processes, is [very] essential to the way we work.”

He goes on to explain the precise machinery required to design and create the new iPhone 4.0, and the importance of the relationship between form and mastery of material.

Obviously, there are some philosophical leanings in this discussion, but let’s push that aside for a minute and examine what we can learn about our own industry from Ive’s quote.

If you read between the lines, you’ll see that when Ive speaks of materials, he speaks of them in a way that defines the intended user experience. He’s in love with his materials.

To Apple, it’s not good enough just to make the iPhone out of cheap steel and plastic. The materials are a product in their own right, and it’s just as important that they’re sexy too.

Think I’m embellishing? Take a look at the iPhone product page, and you’ll see what I mean. The first two headlines aren’t bragging about features or benefits. They’re bragging about materials!

Why?

Apple knows they can’t sell a sexy iPhone application if the iPhone itself looks like crap. You have to start with the actual materials and work your way up.

The same is true for digital products.

If you’re putting together a website, you can’t just throw in a few pretty images and expect it to look great. You need great typography, a great color scheme, and a great layout.

Digital or physical, it all begins with the fundamentals. If you want to make your product more sexy, that’s where you should start.

Cut out As Much As You Can

Sometimes, it’s not what you put in the product, but what you don’t put in that counts.

Back in 1984, Steve Jobs had this to say about it:

“If you read the Apple’s first brochure, the headline was ‘Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication.’ What we meant by that was that when you first attack a problem it seems really simple because you don’t understand it. Then when you start to really understand it, you come up with these very complicated solutions because it’s really hairy. Most people stop there. But a few people keep burning the midnight oil and finally understand the underlying principles of the problem and come up with an elegantly simple solution for it. But very few people go the distance to get there.”

So what does this mean, and how does it relate to you?

The short version: less is more.

In product design and marketing, an experience is defined by customer perception, not business theory. If your customers can’t sign up, can’t open the package, or can’t use it, they’re not happy.

If you need a 300 page manual or a 10 page FAQ in order to use your product, then maybe it’s time to cut something out. Simplify it, so your customer can understand what it’s really about.

You can do it. It’s just a matter of chipping away all of the stuff that doesn’t matter, leaving you with the core of the product.

Manage the Complete User Experience

Have you ever bought an album based on the cover, only to find that the music sucks? What about buying something online because of a cool-looking picture only to be disappointed when it arrives?

Yeah? Well, that never happens with Apple.

Buy any Apple product, and you’ll see that they take great care to present their product as a work of art. Their website is sexy, their email receipts are sexy, even their packaging is sexy.

They are fanatical about it. So much, in fact, that they went so far as to place patents on the boxes the iPhone’s come in.

Here’s what Jobs had to say during a 2008 interview with Fortune Magazine:

“Our DNA is as a consumer company – for that individual customer who’s voting thumbs up or thumbs down. That’s who we think about. And we think that our job is to take responsibility for the complete user experience. And if it’s not up to par, it’s our fault, plain and simply.”

Notice how he said, “complete?”

If you want to design a sexy product, you can’t ignore a single detail of the user experience. Stop looking at products as a solo unit, and look at the entire flow.

It’s a Philosophy

So, materials, simplicity, and user experience? Is that all there is to it?

No, I don’t think so.

Sure, each of those elements are part of great design, but I believe this goes beyond design.

It’s about philosophy.

Sexy products aren’t a fancy package, a great looking banner, or a slick button. They’re about wowing the customer.

Try as we might, that’s not something you can dissect into an easy set of step-by-step directions. It’s a mindset, a belief system, a philosophy of business that drives everything you do.

The good news is that makes it attainable. To make your products sexy, you don’t need a whole building of designers or an agency on Madison Avenue.

You just need to commit to giving your customers a truly memorable experience.

And that’s something any company can do, no matter how big or small.

  1. That’s is soo true – Apple really define what it means to have an epic design.

    When I bought my own Ipod, I almost got an orgasm by just holding it.

    This company owns brilliant design – I don’t know any other electronic corporation that that’s so obsessed with beautiful design !

    I personally believe that simplicity + brilliant design is the alpha and omega of design, and that includes blog design as well.

    • Nathan Hangen Aug 06, 2010 at 9:09 am

      I also read numerous accounts about “unwrapping,” or how people video/take picture of themselves opening apple products. Most don’t even throw away the boxes. That should say something right there.

  2. I like your philosophy, man. (and your stance regarding blog frequency you just did recently).

  3. This is a beautiful article.

  4. Maksim Shaihalov Aug 06, 2010 at 9:54 am

    Thanks for the good post. read with pleasure

  5. So very true indeed. Lipstick on a pig is still lipstick on a pig. Er, or something like that.

    In agreement with you about looking at the whole process right from the start. A lot of people want quick fixes and solutions, but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way most of the time. If the offering isn’t remarkable in the first place, no amount of design is going to fix that.

    And in regards to simplicity and web design, my philosophy has always been: It’s as close to done as it’ll ever be when you can’t take away anything else. When we work on a website design, we spend way more time on the process and planning and trying to simplify things than we actually do designing. I think it’s something that most people don’t understand about how designers work. That’s a rant for another day though.

    Great article, Nathan!

    • Nathan Hangen Aug 06, 2010 at 10:30 am

      Thanks Naomi!

      You make a great point in regards to simplicity. I love when designers spend time with me worrying about more than just textures and fonts…it’s the purpose that counts.

  6. Agree with most of it, we find simplicity the most important thing in what we do too. But I think still a lot of these sexiness is defined by culture. While these mostly apply in anglo saxon countries other cultures has different looks to it. For instance germans are much more technical and Japanese culture is so different as well as the Chinese market where like Japans the flexibilty of apps is a must, trust and customer loyalty are also an issues. Example: if things are too simple, the potential buyers don’t want it, for there is no exclusiveness in how good you are, if its so simple, you as a person must be simple. Apple is sold there much more as a status product than simplicity as a benefit.

  7. Michelle Adams Aug 09, 2010 at 3:07 am

    I admit I still have my iPod touch case! I recall when I first got it I held the box up to my husband and said ‘And that’s just the box!’

    They are brilliant in all they do. No mediocrity, just brilliance.

    I like the way you’ve shown here how it’s attainable for all of us as it is indeed a philosophy.

  8. This article was ‘magical’.

  9. It is perfect. whatever you design you need to think being a part of it.

  10. Reuben Swartz Aug 18, 2010 at 5:38 am

    Nice article.

    Note that Apple’s insistence on sexy design is about more than aesthetics– it makes good financial sense, too. By differentiating their products and their users’ experiences, they can command a premium price, and their margins are much higher than other computer makers’.

  11. Loved the article; each section clearly spoke to important points to consider when building a web product.

    However, I believe the article fell a bit short on addressing an important issue: building an exceptional user experience is HARD. Really, really hard.

    As designers, it can be overwhelming at times when trying to build an experience on par with Apple. What are some simple strategies product designers can use to apply these core values to our products?

    What are some simple, actionable first steps?

  12. Stephanie Lynn Oct 04, 2010 at 11:42 am

    This is so true. I was a die-hard windows user for most of my life, and when I switched to mac, one of the first things I remember thinking when I got my macbook and opened the box was “Is this ALL that comes with it?” It was the computer, the power cord, a disk and a tiny little 10 page instruction manual. Now I realize that that’s a GOOD thing. Too much extra stuff is intimidating. Even the box itself was easy to open. I still have the box and can’t for the life of me bring myself to get rid of it. It’s too pretty.

    • It is! I love the simplicity factor of a Mac. It just comes to show you that less is more.

  13. Being a web designing company I know how hard it is to come up with beautiful designs. Keeping customers happy is a tough task. But still we try to do the best we can.

    Apple rocks!

  14. Substance over hype is attractive with products, packaging, and websites, just like it is in people and can stand the test of time and trends.

  15. You make your products sexy through clever marketing, that’s all – none of the clever highbrow talk means anything because if you throw enough marketing budget at something you can make any old shit the absolute must have item (Anything from the 80′s is a case in point, oh – or cigarettes).

  16. Stephen Dixon Sep 05, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    I love this article. It demonstrates that the author and whom they represent “get it” where Apple is concerned. They understand what it is that makes Apple, Apple.

    It is understanding the principles of great design and great user experiences just like Apple do, that will allow us to be better web designers.

    This was a brilliant read and one I’ll read again.

  17. Hey

    I think Apple always make new phone and gadgets on the same design which steve jobs has made. They need to make some new designs :)
    Thank you

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