It should go without saying that design and engineering go hand in hand but that is not always the case. How do you explain Apple’s iconic hockey puck iMac mouse from the last century? Or the fact that a new iMac mouse cannot be used while charging?
That Magic Mouse might be pretty but it seems short on usefulness if it cannot be used while charging. I ask the design vs. engineering question because two of the world’s major advertising entities– Google and Facebook– are run by engineers but both companies have morphed beyond engineering. How is Apple different.
Let’s take a look at Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and his take on design.
Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told, “Make it look good!” That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
In essence, and the aforementioned stupidity of Magic Mouse considered, Apple’s products tend to look good and work well. Apple makes its money the old fashioned way. Hardware sales. Yes, I know that Services is the fastest growing business segment at Apple but where would it be without hardware?
Apple knows what it is and does not pretend to be anything else. Apple designs, engineers, and manufactures hardware and related software that we want to use.
What about Google? The search engine giant is an advertising company run by engineers. Design and user interface prowess is suspect at best and attempts to diversify the company into interconnected hardware and software seems destined to mimic Microsoft’s attempts to diversify from the Windows and Office hegemony. Failure. Google’s engineers may have wanted to create better search results, but it makes its money by selling advertising. Nothing else– Android, Pixel, Nest, et al– has come close to making a dent in that business model.
What about Facebook? In the age of fake news and social interaction, Facebook has become a media company that specializes in moving information– for better or worse– to people via online social interaction. More than 2-billion people are signed up to use Facebook. Enormous amounts of information are moved to members– as with Google, you are a user to Facebook, therefore, a part of the product rather than a customer– but done so with little human interaction.
This is a case of algorithms gone wild and accounts for perhaps the largest center for fake news. Just as Google is an advertising company run by engineers, Facebook is a media company run by engineers. That means neither company has a good sense of design and usability. One could argue that both Google and Facebook have helped turn the information superhighway into the misinformation superhighway where internet users are tracked to the point of being stalked– all in the name of algorithms which beget profits.
Apple seems to be the perfect blend of design and engineering, perhaps because Steve Jobs considered engineering to be part of the design process. Google and Facebook have engineers, too, but neither company– thanks to an abstract business model– seems to understand their impact upon how their products are used.