Design thinking is at the heart of every business, including Apple, who have enjoyed enormous success.

Find out how you can start thinking about design more strategically and effectively at Northumbria University with its Design Management Masters.

There’s no doubt about it: there’s an emotional relationship between consumers and Apple products. With a fantastic brand recognition and consumer loyalty, Apple  is ranked by consumers as one of the top three global companies they were ‘unable to live without’ by MBLM’s Brand Intimacy Study.

Apple is very effective in inspiring an emotional relationship with its  customers. But what is it that makes Apple products different from their competitors’ offerings? How do they manage to consistently lead the market through creative design and innovation?

Using Design Thinking to Fuel Innovation

Before Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, Apple suffered from a lack of strategy and many failed products. In 1997, Apple was $1 billion USD in debt and around six to eight weeks from bankruptcy. But when Jobs made his triumphant return, he brought in design thinking methodologies to turn its fortunes around.

Design thinking is a methodology and a strategic design process that Northumbria University is passionate about and forms a key part of its Design Management Masters.  It encourages entrepreneurs and businesses to solve complex problems by prioritising understanding consumer needs before creating constructive solutions to meet them. As Tim Brown, Northumbria University alumnus and president and CEO of IDEO, defines, “it draws from the designers’ toolkit to integrate the needs of the people, the possibilities of technology and the requirements for business success.”

Think Different!

Apple’s core design thinking process centres on three main principles:

  1. Considering consumer needs first before the needs of the business
  2. The design first, rather than the engineering of products; considering both the form and the function of a product to create simple, holistic user-friendly experiences
  3. Building consumer brand empathy

Northumbria alumnus and former chief designer of iconic Apple products such as the iPad and iMac, Sir Jonny Ive says, “deep in the culture of Apple is this sense and understanding of design, development and making. Steve used to say “quality is more important than quality. One home run is better than two doubles.”’

Apple’s ten steps to design success

In his book, ‘Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired – and Secretive – Company Really Works’, Adam Lashinsky explores how Jobs’ transformed Apple’s internal processes to focus on design thinking from initial ideation to sales. Lashinsky  outlines how Apple applied its design thinking process throughout the whole company by following ten steps:

  1. Idea formation: The company first looks to achieve a deep understanding of their customers before discussing new product ideas and making initial sketches.
  2. Product start-up creation: A specific team is chosen to focus solely on the development process.
  3. Prototyping: Sometimes called “10 to 3 to 1”, first the design team has freedom to explore creative ideas by creating ten concepts. Three concepts are selected as finalists, and then one final product is selected to move through to the next stage.
  4. Apple’s New Product Process (ANPP): Apple then selects a prototype and agrees to start production. Using an ANPP document to describe the production process in detail and maps its different stages.
  5. Weekly Executive Team Review: The executive team meet to discuss production, reviewing small parts of the process on a weekly basis.
  6. Peer Design Meetings: The design and engineering teams meet to focus on improving the design of the product and fuel creative ideas.
  7. Production Management: The engineering product manager (EPM) and global supply chain manager (GSM) are responsible for the production process.
  8. Product Testing: Once the beta product is created it’s reviewed and tested. Afterwards it is sent to China for amendments – a process that repeats in order to reach Apple’s high-quality standards.
  9. Packaging: Packaging of the new product is designed and tested – a stage which is subject to intensive testing in order to achieve the best consumer experience.
  10. Rules of The Road: Before the product hits the shelves, a Rules of the Road document is created which evaluates the entire production process, ensuring the overall quality of the product’s design and the production process.

Turning failure into market success

Apple’s journey teaches us how design and innovation can take a company from the brink of failure to market success. Design thinking has centred consumers at the heart of Apple’s strategy, providing a practical lesson that successful products are not just generated by a great team, but arise through an excellent design process.

During this process, enough space is given for teams to consider creative ideas seriously as a business opportunity. While some business executives believe that the creative production process is an expensive ‘nice to have’, Apple’s results provide a clear example of how it can contribute to an exceptionally strong bottom line.

At Northumbria University, design thinking is at the heart of our Design Management Masters. Through our course, you’ll discover how you can build your business through design and learn to apply creative solutions to organisational problems to create new opportunities – just like Apple.

To discover how we’re helping our students to become more strategic innovators, take the next step and find out more today.

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