Friday, April 20, 2012


Marco Arment highlights the two things that most of Apple's competitors will never have in their battle against iPhones and iPads: time and taste.

Their lack of time is simply a question of math and the passage of time: unlike Apple, they have not invested years in developing, tweaking, and refining their products; instead they rush to market with a me-too device that most customers will recognize to be cynical and inferior.

Their lack of taste is the more hopeless scenario, though. A patient CEO can eventually invest enough time to get his company into the same ballpark as Apple. Taste, though, is not something you develop through will or patience. It's a quality that almost everyone thinks they have, but relatively few people actually possess. Worse, recognizing good taste when you see it is far, far easier than creating tasteful objects yourself.

If you work in or on the periphery of a creative field, you've seen this happen: someone in your office sees something cool or well-designed and decides, "We should do that, too!" And so a project spins up that seeks to develop a copy of that cool/well-designed something. In the end, it shares many of the qualities of the original, but it's neither cool nor well-designed, because the people involved in the project believe that they possess good taste and many of them don't. Worse, they designed this product by committee, which allowed those with no taste to drag the product down to their level.

It's a problem with no easy solution. Everyone sincerely believes that they have taste, so you can't ask those with bad taste to remove themselves from the process. Everyone is convinced that they have what it takes to design something special, but of course very few of us actually do. So perhaps one approach is to challenge everyone in your organization to design one thing, using the tools and media that suit them best. Gather their products, and where you find beauty, elegance, or that certain indefinable something, grant its creator a chance to participate in the creation of more important things.

Otherwise, your best chance lies in hiring the next Jonathan Ive -- and then not allowing the committee to shout him down when he's trying to design something beautiful.