Stop with the Apple to Apple comparisons, please

One day, just over fifteen years ago we were in a meeting with a Silicon Valley client and discussing the importance of Design Thinking. We were introducing the client to some friends at IDEO and talking about findings from research we did on their brand experience.

At one moment in the meeting we used Apple as an example of a corporation using design as a strategic platform. Our client, the CEO, shot back with a quip, “Apple is dead in this town.” We didn’t let it derail the importance of why we brought Apple up as an example, but it did make an impression on us. And, to be fair to the CEO, this was the prevailing wind at the time, Apple was in a tough spot. This was the last time we used Apple as an example in a report to client, but not for the reason you’d think.

Using Apple as an example has become the drinking game of most conferences. Here’s how it goes, “We each have to take a sip of our coffee every time Apple comes up as an example, the first person who races off to the restroom loses.” It’s really more of a bladder control game than a drinking game, but you get the idea. We admire and have eternal gratefulness for what Apple has done for the design industry. But, and this is a huge Kardashian sized but, it isn’t fair to compare most other corporations to Apple.

Apple was founded by a design thinker / philosopher (Steve Jobs) and a technologist (Steve Wozniak). Design was embedded in the culture from the beginning. A vast majority (exceptions can be noted) of corporations are not founded by a design-driven CEO. It just isn’t part of the path in a design school and MBAs who have a design degree are just not a large part of the population, yet.

Add to this fact that many Silicon Valley ventures and brands have interpreted “we need design like Apple has” as, “our visual language needs to be mostly white, grey with bold minimal photography.” It is a complete miss if your brand takes on the Apple aesthetic because that’s on trend, unless you plan to be a division of Apple someday. But, it is both human to invent solutions to problems and human to copy someone’s solution or take what is popular. We (humans) are complex beasts.

So, when we hear these comparisons back to Apple and their design or innovation-driven culture, it falls flat for Capsule. There are two scenarios where this is possible to achieve. One: your founder started at Apple and was involved in designing the culture of Apple. Two: You run a division of Apple that’s been divested or spun off to be on its own. Otherwise, infusing design thinking is equal to turning a goat into a cow. We appreciate the effort, but let’s be honest the milk just won’t taste the same.

That’s our view on it, but we’d also like to hear contrarian points on this subject. Comment or reach out if you think an existing culture can turn itself into a design-driven (assuming they haven’t been) culture akin to Apple.

Thoughts and views appreciated. Otherwise, start sipping some coffee and we’ll see you at the restroom.

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Categories Branding, Design Thinking

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