Co.Design

Apple's New Products Reveal Stunning Brand Discipline

Apple's new products have one subtle quality that no company can touch: Cohesion.

Just minutes ago, Apple announced a slew of new products, including an updated Apple TV that will make a play for cable and Netflix; an entire new line of iPods; and a refreshed version of iTunes that incorporates social networking.

All of these are geared toward a singular vision of a new Apple, which produces the world's most beautiful boxes and interfaces for bringing you every type of media content you like, anywhere you want it.

So it's fitting that the products all share a coherent design language: Subtle cues link the devices, making each one feel like it's part of something greater — namely, the Apple brand.

[The new iPod Touch]

Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive have been hinting at this for years. Ever since the release of the iMac in the late 1990s, Apple has been in turns coherent and incoherent. Somewhere around the mid-2000s, which featured the PowerBook, MacBook, iMacs, and three iPod lines that looked wildly dissimilar, it all started to look a little wild, taken together.

But since then, the discipline is back (though it's a process that's gone on quietly). The central point of reference, you'll recall, was the MacBook Air, a brilliant design that introduced the shiny black accents and matte aluminum that you see all over Apple today, and it recently culminated in the iPhone 4, which is probably Apple's biggest homage yet to the design cues of Dieter Rams. The new line-up almost fully incorporates that DNA. And the overall consistency of that vision reveals itself in the details. Take, for instance, the packaging — a feature of Apple's products that has always been the brand's first impression on new customers:

The new line-up is simple, and the low-end products don't feel like afterthoughts. Again, they feel like part of the family — and even something as tiny as the new iPod nano shares buttons, curves, finishes, and proportions with the mighty iPhone 4:

I don't think it's a stretch to say that feeling you have a foot in the door as a consumer predisposes you to go back for new products (as opposed to say, feeling like you merely have a busted little entry-level device).

You'll even notice that the new UI for Apple TV — a product that Apple always seemed to hold at arm's length — appears redesigned. It looks unique but of a piece with the layouts and organizing logic of the iPod UI and iTunes:

We've heard from sources close to Apple that in the past couple years, designers there have been moving to a longer and longer-term view of product design. So instead of one concept per product, each new concept involves designing an entire range and showing how it might evolve and extend to other devices.

Yet again, Apple raises the game. This time, it's in thinking of their products as paper boats in a steadily flowing river that's the Apple brand, rather than weighty nuggets of brilliance that just sink to the bottom. The new line proves how successful they've been at hewing to that vision.

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Curious about the details of yesterday's announcement?

For more about the new iPods, click here.

For more on the iTunes social network, Ping, click here.

For more about Apple TV (and how it might squash cable TV) click here.

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4 Comments

  • John

    Stop talking about Apple. Your magazine is becoming nothing but an advertisement for these underperforming, overpriced boxes with round corners.

  • Cliff Kuang

    @Tim---Agreed! I've always feared the Apple logos would get too cute, and the new iTunes logo proves it can happen. So bad.

  • Nate O'Shaughnessey

    Great article.
    great observation.
    I'm not an Apple fan, but i can certainly admire the quality of their hardware and as you pointed out, the cohesion of their products aesthetics. Even better this time around. Will I be buying any of them? not likely, but who cares what i am buying anyway. The numbers speak for themselves, Apple has a good handle on what the highest profit margin consumer is today. Excellent job actually brining this full line to market without losing the design cohesion along the way. Like you pointed out, it is like a family, where the cheaper one's aren't necessarily an afterthought, but a smaller member of the family.