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Apple isn't a design company, it's a fashion company

Posted: , by Michael H.

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Apple isn't a design company, it's a fashion company
One of the most commonly levied arguments against Apple is that the products don't change much, but are still sold at a premium cost. Often the counter-argument is made that the quality of an Apple device is what counts, rather than the functionality. People point to the ease of interaction, or the integration from software to hardware. We have even made the case that Apple is a design company first, but that isn't quite right. Apple isn't a design company, it's a fashion company.

If anyone out there watches the incredibly wonderful Idea Channel from PBS on YouTube, you'll have seen the genesis of this idea in a recent video called, "Is CSS and Website Design a Fashion Statement" (which we'll embed here as a primer for the ideas we're covering). But, as far as we're concerned, CSS and web design are really the same thing, it's all really a question of UI design, and there is no doubt that UI design is a fashion statement. We've seen the evidence over and over. But, an important point to keep in mind is the difference between fashion and what is fashionable or trendy. Fashion is an idea based in the intent of the creator and the marketers. What is fashionable or trendy is based on the reaction of consumers. And, because of the very high level of subjectivity in fashion, the two sides don't always meet, but that doesn't mean that an iPhone is any less of a fashion item.


Just like we can look back at the clothing fashion of a certain time, so too can we do the same with UI design. In its time, the UI of Windows 3.1 was considered great design, but it fell out of fashion, and Microsoft changed the look with Windows 95, then again with Windows XP, Windows 7, and now one more time with Windows 8. Each iteration was an attempt to make the UI more modern and contemporary, more fashionable. Microsoft saw the same opportunity when remaking Windows Mobile into Windows Phone, and developing the Metro UI (now known as Modern UI). Some don't like it, but the Modern UI is a testament to typography and minimalist design. At first it may just look like a grid of tiles, but there is a wealth of information and design variety within those tiles. And, it is no doubt a type of fashion, aimed to appeal to users and to distinguish the products from the competition.


Google hasn't been a company very well known for its design, but has been trying to change that. All of the Google web services have gotten a makeover to be more consistent, which is an easy way to give the company a recognizable style, or fashion. Just like someone may be able to look at a handbag and know the designer, if you see a Google website, you can recognize it as such. Google hasn't quite made the move into being a company known for its design, so when it showed off Google Glass at a fashion show, it came off as a very strange move, but really it was exactly how Google wants to be seen. It wants to be the company that offers the functionality you want with the fashion caché behind it. 

Apple isn't a design company, it's a fashion company
We have seen the same with Android, where Android 1.5 and 2.x were widely described as "utilitarian", the UI was functional, but no one would argue it was well-designed or even pretty. Then, Google hired Matias Duarte, who is no doubt a fashionable man himself as a quick Google search for "Matias Duarte fashion" (no quotes) will uncover. Suddenly, Android's UI started looking more fashionable. There were incidental animations, flashy transitions, an array of colors, and all of the small details that are the hallmark of good design (like the outline of icons on the homescreen as you rearrange apps). Android UI is attempting to become fashionable. 

Of course, Google's style vision is constantly in conflict with manufacturers who change the UI in order to create their own fashion. HTC's fashion sense is in elaborate animations and bright graphics. Samsung has taken a cue from nature with its new fashion overlay. And, Amazon has completely wiped away all of Google's work to create its own style for the Kindle Fire products. 


Apple is the thesis of this entire idea. The company was founded under principles of iconic design. The idea couldn't have been more apparent in Apple's co-founders, Steve Jobs - stylish, iconic fashion (the black turtleneck and blue jeans), and obsessive about the smallest design choice - and, Steve Wozniak - functional clothing, and obsessed with tinkering and functionality of products. Ultimately, Steve Jobs' vision won out, which is why Apple has gotten the reputation of being the BMW of the tech world. 

Apple isn't a design company, it's a fashion company
Most people see a comparison to BMW and jump to an argument of quality, but that's not accurate. Quality is a virtue of fashion, not necessarily the other way around. Remember, Nokia made phones that could be dropped into the middle of the sun and survive, but no one was going to give them design awards. However, if a company that strove for high-class design made a product that was shoddy, it would be widely ignored. This leads to the "label effect", which is something that Apple is most definitely trying to tap into. 

We've talked before about Apple's aim for iconic design, and how it ties to brand recognition, and all of that comes together in the idea of fashion. That's why we wan to try something out, all of the Apple haters: consider how you think about fashion. Are you interested at all in high fashion? What about casual fashion? Do you try to be trendy or do you just wear what's comfortable, and what shows off who you are?

Now, what about your choices in technology? Do you want control or ease? Customization or recognizability? It's all the same continuum of form vs functionality, or for the purposes of this discussion: fashion vs functionality. 

Fashion vs Functionality

As we have argued before, Apple has always focused more on design, and often at the expense of functionality, but the trouble is that argument isn't quite right. It implies that Apple actively removed functionality, or took resources away from building more functionality in order to focus on design. In reality, quality design requires fewer user-controlled functions. The more user-controlled functions that exist, the more UI controls necessary in order to make those functions accessible. Additionally, design choices made to aid functionality are often described as "ugly". It may look pretty to have glass or aluminum chassis on your mobile device, but it's a whole lot easier to hold an "ugly" plastic device like the Google Nexus 7 or Nexus 10 in one hand because of that design choice. 

There are users who exist across the spectrum of fashion vs functionality. The most hardcore users (and also a high proportion of our audience) tend to want more control, even at the expense of fashion, so they are the types who use Linux and Android. Those who don't want quite as much control, but still a good amount of tinkering space go for Windows. And, those who want something that has a short learning curve, and the fashion recognition may go for Apple products. As we always try to impress upon those in our audience who are least likely to be swayed by things like logic and perspective: it's all a matter of choice. Just because you prefer one doesn't make the other choices wrong. You can't defend Android's ecosystem of choice and then attack someone else for choosing Apple, that's simple hypocrisy. Some people just want a device that looks good and is easy to use, even if it costs more than reason would say it should, and those people will go for the brand name, the fashionable choice, and that's Apple. 

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posted on 30 Oct 2012, 18:26 6

1. Johnnokia (Posts: 1144; Member since: 27 May 2012)

If Apple creates fashionable designs, what would say about Nokia ??!!.

posted on 30 Oct 2012, 18:36 18

6. Friendlysky (Posts: 54; Member since: 04 Jul 2012)

If you old enough to know history you might know that Nokia has being design and build their owned parts themself. They do not ask others company to build screen and chip for them like apple. Apple is a design company they are not an electronic company. I totally agreed with them.

posted on 30 Oct 2012, 20:16 3

46. neutralguy (Posts: 1152; Member since: 30 Apr 2012)

Actually, nokia don't manufacture those parts either, rather, get some other companies to manufacture it. Do you think, nokia manufacture its camera sensors? No. Screens? No. Polycarbonate plastic case? No.

Both of them are electronic/"phone designer" companies, no argument needed.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 03:51 1

75. PhenomFaz (Posts: 1236; Member since: 26 Sep 2012)

Apple is a fashion company and not a very good one at that! Just take a look at the iPhone 5...nicks, scratches, paint wear-offs...at least apple should've gotten their fashion right since they clearly sacrificed functionality for fashion!

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 05:17

79. darkkjedii (Posts: 24334; Member since: 05 Feb 2011)

How a bout the gs3's cracks between the camera and speaker and along the sides.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 10:31 1

87. PhenomFaz (Posts: 1236; Member since: 26 Sep 2012)

the discussion was never of a samsung product you noob. Samsung may or may not have flaws it doesn't bother me...I am an android guy and that doesn't only mean sammy but sony, htc, moto, lg, etc.

And if the gs3 was so bad then it wouldn't have become the most pre-ordered electronic device in history and the single largest selling phone with over 30 million units! even in the week when iphone 5 released the gs3 sales spiked upwards and are still going at a steady rate whereas iphone 5 drama has fizzled out...!

Admit it...you know it...I OWN you TROLL!

posted on 05 Nov 2012, 22:51

99. Nadr1212 (Posts: 741; Member since: 22 Sep 2012)

I just wasted 5-10 mins of my life just to read this stupid article.
This is time I will NEVER get back no matter what

posted on 30 Oct 2012, 20:30 9

50. JeffdaBeat (unregistered)

And we see where that got them...

I'm sorry, but you cannot for a moment say that Apple isn't an electronic company. Luxury vehicle companies get components of their cars from other vendors (as does Ford, GM, Chrysler), but we still call them car/automotive companies. Arrow Dynamics was a roller coaster company, but they didn't manufacture or build the coaster themselves. They used Morgan Manufacturing to do it. Does that make them any less of a roller coaster company? I'd argue no.

Apple champions design, yes. They want their products to look good on your desk or when you're out. They want it to attract the eye so it can stand out from its competition. We see this in all areas of advertising and packaging of products. But what is fashion is based on the user. I didn't buy my iPhone to be fashionable especially since I usually wear jeans, Chucks, and a black hoodie everywhere I go. I bought it because it works just as well 2 years later as it did the first day I bought it. I cannot say the same about my old Blackberry, HTC Mogul, Palm Treo, or HTC Touch Pro (all companies I think we'd consider electronics companies). I didn't buy my iMac (something no one usually sees) because I want to show how well off I am (which I'm not). I bought it because I've literally never had to reformat a Mac since I started using them. Same goes with most of the Apple products I've purchased. I can't say that for the PC's I've owned and I was a BIG Apple hater back then.

Now, if Apple made legitimately crappy products...and not just what folks around here might call crappy because they don't like Apple...but universally critically panned products that just looked good, I'd be right on board with calling Apple a design company and their products fashion statements. But it's simply not true. Their products are not only critically acclaimed for their design, but their usability as well. And this isn't me just being a fanboy. You can look these reviews up yourself by professionals whose jobs are to review multiple products of all kinds of quality.

I understand why Apple may not work for you personally. I totally get it. But taking what the company has done and how it has changed the entire industry in just the course of these 5 years since the iPhone and saying...well Apple is just a design company...is just crap. Folks mocked the iPad, but tablets were dead in the water before it, now we've got every mobile phone company making one. You may hate FaceTime, but it finally took video streaming away from the carriers and put it in the hands of the handset creators (you should have seen the ridiculous price AT&T charged for their video share). People mocked the MacBook air, but all of a sudden all these UltraBooks appeared.

Apple designs every aspect of their products. If we are to criticize them for using vendors for parts, then there are a LOT of companies in other fields that we will have to do the same with. Apple is an electronics company.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 00:21 4

71. ilia1986 (unregistered)

Jeff - the problem is that unlike other companies - Apple isn't willing to play nice with the competition - and because of the ridiculous patent system - it is a threat to anything and everything tech-related which is somehow competitive with it.

Company ethics aside - Apple is the only company which purposefully restricts it's product's functionality - so it can add it later on and call it a "revolutionary new feature". Were not talking here about small stuff. iOS users can't yet send files via email ffs.

You ARE right about one thing though - Apple isn't a fashion company - my SGS3 is arguably as recognizable as an iPhone. Heck, according to the jury of Samsung trial - they look the same (lol).

it's however amusing to read Michael's different explanations for why many people hate Apple (according to him - we just don't understand Apple) lol.

Have a nice day, y'all. :)

Sent from my Galaxy S3.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 07:13

81. darkkjedii (Posts: 24334; Member since: 05 Feb 2011)

Wowwww Jeff. That's an awesome post bro. One can really see the thought that went into it, your input isn't even refutable. Very well said +1 bro.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 09:19

84. ZEUS.the.thunder.god (unregistered)

+1 bro and I totally agree with you.
Apple make good products however I hate Apple for its rotten business practices and ethics. As illia1986 said Apple is not willing to play fair. They want to eliminate competition by hook or crook. Now thats the number one reason many people just hate apple.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 01:20 2

72. Johnnokia (Posts: 1144; Member since: 27 May 2012)

common guys, it is a sarcasm ,,
Nokia is million times better than Apple.
sorry for misunderstanding

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 02:14

74. Nathan_ingx (Posts: 4280; Member since: 07 Mar 2012)

Whatever you say John.
But i'll stick with the headline! :)
Honestly, it's personal preference...it's like debating over which came first, the chicken or the egg.
It won't end... Apple lovers will defend, Others will offend.

posted on 05 Nov 2012, 22:38

98. Nadr1212 (Posts: 741; Member since: 22 Sep 2012)

SHUT UP PERSON IN THE VIDEO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

posted on 30 Oct 2012, 19:53

39. fanboy1974 (Posts: 1345; Member since: 12 Nov 2011)

Dead in the water?

posted on 30 Oct 2012, 22:37 3

66. kevkyle (Posts: 104; Member since: 21 Oct 2012)

yOU Have got to visit engadget...It's martial law out there - comments against the IPad mini review are DELETED by moderators and the writer Tim Stevens - in real TIME.....absolutely outrageous....not Kidding!

....they banned commenters from Pocketnow too....anything against apple are deleted from their threads . Unbelievable!

posted on 30 Oct 2012, 23:09 3

68. RaKithAPeiRiZ (Posts: 1488; Member since: 29 Dec 2011)

This was very common ...i used to get banned every week when they had disqus on engadget

posted on 30 Oct 2012, 23:50 3

69. kevkyle (Posts: 104; Member since: 21 Oct 2012)

never once did i think nor believe techbloggers were on apple's payroll......sounded insane - ", ) - guess am wrong.....

now they're openly flaunting....clueless me, haha

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 10:48

88. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2707; Member since: 26 May 2011)

I haven't checked out the sites, but I'm curious on one point: are comments being deleted just for saying the iPad mini doesn't look good, or are comments being deleted because people can't stop directly attacking Apple and starting flame wars?

posted on 30 Oct 2012, 18:26 5

2. jaoowolabi (Posts: 201; Member since: 07 Jun 2012)

Oh is that what is is now?

posted on 30 Oct 2012, 20:34 2

53. maxican16 (Posts: 364; Member since: 29 Sep 2011)

Yeah, that was my thought as well, but I tried to keep an open mind. I can see what the author is getting at.

So as android continues down the path set by Matias Duarte, and becomes more "fashionable" with its hardware design as well (it's already there in terms of software), even to the point it equals the attention to detail present in the iphone, then Apple is REALLY in trouble.

......I don't think that time is very far off.

posted on 30 Oct 2012, 18:30 5

3. pongkie (Posts: 654; Member since: 20 Aug 2011)

apple don't make fashionable designs they make simple designs.

posted on 30 Oct 2012, 18:35 5

5. AppleConspiracy (Posts: 637; Member since: 18 Oct 2011)

Fashionability is not a matter of simplicity or complexity.

posted on 30 Oct 2012, 18:41 3

10. pongkie (Posts: 654; Member since: 20 Aug 2011)

come on apple may be a form of art but its not fashionable. most of thier products are aluminum where's the fashion in that.

posted on 30 Oct 2012, 18:48 1

17. AppleConspiracy (Posts: 637; Member since: 18 Oct 2011)

It looks like you know what fashion is. So, what is fashion?

posted on 30 Oct 2012, 18:52 2

18. pongkie (Posts: 654; Member since: 20 Aug 2011)

something that make you stand out from the rest.

posted on 30 Oct 2012, 19:00 1

21. brandnew234 (Posts: 18; Member since: 12 Aug 2012)

So you couldn't tell an iPhone from ANY WP phone, or an Android (excluding iPhone copies)?

posted on 30 Oct 2012, 19:07 1

23. AppleConspiracy (Posts: 637; Member since: 18 Oct 2011)

If something is fashion, that means it's a trend (recognizable), so it's exactly opposite of unique and does not stand out.

posted on 30 Oct 2012, 19:32

35. pongkie (Posts: 654; Member since: 20 Aug 2011)

Fashion is something iFans would not ever get. Fashion is also daring, new, adventureous, head turning.

walk in a mall with that black turtleneck and no one would care, then try out an outfit that is unique, fresh, daring, sexy(must have the body) and you'll know what fashion is.

Try going out with your friends and bring an iphone 4, iphone 4s, ip 5 and try switching it during that time. your friends wouldn't even notice that you actually used 3 different iphones in that day or do it with the different generations of ipad same thing.

posted on 30 Oct 2012, 23:04

67. Commentator (Posts: 3722; Member since: 16 Aug 2011)

What are you talking about? How is fashion anything other than what the socially accepted norm of appearance is? There's a reason "out of fashion" and "in fashion" are phrases. Lady Gaga (if she still exists) always runs around in weird "daring" styles, but I definitely would not call "her" fashionable.

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