Co.Design

In 20 Years, We’re All Going To Realize This Apple Ad Is Nuts

Apple’s "Designed in California" ad inadvertently demonstrates the most fundamental problem of the personal electronics age, and once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

“This is it. This is what matters. The experience of a product.”

These are the opening words of Apple’s heartstring-tugging "Designed In California" commercial. Read them to yourself a few times. Then wonder why someone inside the company didn’t insist upon this copy edit:

“This is it. This is what matters. The experience of a person.”

Watch the ad closely for me. As we’re told that products are what matter, we see a series of shots in which people actively turn away from life to engage with their technology.

  • A woman closes her eyes on the subway to soak in electronic music.
  • A room of students looks down at their desks instead of at their teacher.
  • A parent and child cuddle, focused on a screen that’s so powerful it illuminates the kid’s face.
  • A couple kisses in the rain, then immediately turn away to look at a phone.
  • A tourist opts to FaceTime instead of bathing in visceral, smoky yakitori.

In what should be a warm, humanizing montage, people are constantly directing their attention away from one another and the real, panoramic world to soak in pixels. They’re choosing the experience of their products over the experience of other people several times in quick succession. And Apple has a warm voice in the background, goading us on.

This is a crazy world. Please tell me you see it, too.

Now I’m not saying the ad isn’t representative of real human behavior. Indeed, since Apple changed the world with the iPhone’s multitouch screen, the fundamental interactions behind our gadgets are designed to constantly lure us back into the four-inch world, nudging us with vibration, push notifications, and impromptu xylophone solos to almost touch all of the people in our lives doing the same thing on another four-inch screen somewhere else.

My fundamental problem with the ad--why it’s begun to make my shoulders tense and stomach churn every time it comes on TV--is not that it’s lying about how we use technology, but Apple’s consecrating the behavior, and even going on to say that their products, not the lives they serve, are “what matters.“ That outlook is so different from Apple’s other recent, non-advertised piece on design.

Ironically, in Apple’s flag-planting ad about design, their marketing department (and at least a few execs) have shown how fundamentally little they understand about the field. Design is at its heart a service for humanity, it’s crafting solutions for people to live with more security, efficiency, or happiness. So the experience of a product will never be what matters to a great designer. It’s always been about the experience of a person using that product.

It’s the most subtle, most important difference that this ad buries under its own hubris. And the commercial’s own audience seems to agree.

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393 Comments

  • Maxim Suckow

    Well, I don't know. You could say the same thing about books: they draw your attention "away from the world". Imagine a pro-reading ad where "we see a series of shots in which people actively turn away from life to engage with their [books]."

    My point is: It's not enough to just criticise that Apple's Ad celebrates "drawing people into the digital world". There is nothing inherently wrong or dangerous in deeply concentrating on something. What matters is what you concentrate on.

  • Guest

    Dear hurlco, would you care to
    elaborate the point that I have missed? The article criticizes that people (in the ad and in reality) chose their digital products over other people and over the real world. The article also implies that this is bad. Now, when you read a book, you also chose to ignore other people and the real world. So why is ignoring the physical world okay when you read a book, but not okay when you use a smartphone or tablet? It may be obvious to you, hurlco, but it isn't obvious to me, so I'll be thankful for further explanations.

  • Guest

    Dear hurlco, would you care to elaborate the point that I have missed?
    The article criticizes that people (in the ad and in reality) chose
    their digital products over other people and over the real world. The
    article implies that this is bad. Now, when you read a book, you also
    chose to ignore other people and the real world. So why is ignoring the
    physical world okay when you read a book, but not okay when you use a
    smartphone or tablet? It may be obvious to you, hurlco, but it isn't
    obvious to me, so I'll be thankful for further explanations.

  • Guest

    Dear hurlco, would you care to elaborate the point that I have missing? The article criticizes that people (in the ad and in reality) chose their digital products over other people and over the real world. The article implies that this is bad. Now, when you read a book, you also chose to ignore other people and the real world. So why is ignoring the physical world okay when you read a book, but not okay when you use a smartphone or tablet? It may be obvious to you, hurlco, but it isn't obvious to me, so I'll be thankful for further explanations.

  • fucface jr

    Apple has more money than the united states and Obama does whatever Tim cook or Jony Ive tells him to. Suck on that samedung lol!

  • fucface jr

    When you're on top jealous people and losers will try to knock you down. It apple is too strong for Samsung and their mindless followers. Up yours Samdung! You slanted eyed bastards!

  • fucface jr

    You're going to regret writing this article about Apple. Apple has the best lawyers in the world and they're going to sue you out of existence for defamation if they want to. You better think twice next time you decide to soi lthereputation of the greatest co.pang in the history of the world Samsung fanboi!

  • fucface jr

    Whoever wrote this aWful article is just jealous of Apple success. They single handedly changed the world and made it a better place to live. Anyone who doubt's this is either a Samsung plant or is jealous. Apple rules!

  • getbettercreative

     The Apple advertising – “Designed by Apple In California” – shows that,
    for the first time, Apple is scared. No longer are they the juggernaut
    of Steve Jobs. They are just another brand. And – boo! – Samsung and
    others are making life scary.  More at http://getbettercreative.com/t...

  • Duncan Noble

    Great article. But I am concerned that you still watch TV. And that you watch ads on TV. Life is short, man. We will never pass this way again. Think about that.
     

  • Joshua Smith

    First of all, if all you live for is technology and you allow that to be the source of your happiness, and joy, and internal emotion, you are missing out on not only the outside physical world, but also the internal spiritual or if you prefer mental world.

  • S.J.

    Some people live for pursuing happiness, no matter in what way. Probably outside physical world is too distracting and too much, they just want to focus on the direct information on the internet.

  • badmadrad

    I'm more concerned with the undertones that "Apple is the reason you are happy. Apple products responsible for your happiness" When in fact there are other technologies that provide the same services that Apple does. Even though Apple made some great innovations they are not the sole contributor to information age we live in. In fact, they merely expanded ideas others pioneered. If anything, Apply should be celebrating individuals as their users instead of making it appear that we are indebted to them. It's their ability to identify the needs of the individual that drive their business.

  • Tele David Deko

    We are putting this ad in the wrong context here, I believe this ad is Apple's response to criticism from investors, shareholders and the general public. 
    Designing products that enhances living is what matters, not churning out products every quarter just because others are doing it. 
    They're also making a political statement with the designed in California tagline. I don't think they're not trying to hype the value of perception. 

  • Juwei Nam

    but they are churning out products every quarter. Macbook pro. Their computers may never look any different but they force you to buy whole new ones eventually because it doesn't work with that version. Microsoft can last years. Mac Book Pros? No. Not unless the only thing you're doing with it is subtly surfing the web and minor writing documents. Otherwise they force all the updated programs to work only with the newest software more often than not. That's how they screwed over flash. And design? The Sony computers in JAPAN...hell most computers in Japan have these designs long before mac did them. In fact some of them look so similar I suspect that the design team really just updates based on whatever Japan had years ago. Japan has a phone design that is completely flat, flexible, plastic and touch. Watch apple pull that off in ten years and say they made it.
    Hell the name iphone existed long before Apple had theirs. Then they sued the company once apple's iphone got popular for having the name before them. Are you kidding me? The copyright legitimately belonged to the iphone company and Apple point-blank stole it for more profit. It's not a political statement. It's a ploy to get you to buy their products. That is it. They ARE saying that their product is your life essentially.

  • Tele David Deko

    Apple isn't introducing a new product hence a new way of engaging technology, Apple is reinstating their stance as a leader in developing technology that truly touches the lives of the users. 
    A simple ride in a crowded bus becomes a pleasurable journey where your device creates an audio world only for you. It makes a huge difference. The young man (most likely a tourist) shares a simple discovery of a foreign meal prepared in a unique way with a friend or group of friends instantly. That instant connection makes a difference. It is that difference that truly matters, irrespective of the device. And if a company can create technology that enhances that experience, they should take pride in it. You may see it as hubris. But the users see it as living life in HD. I take it you're not an Apple fan.20 years is really long time from now.