Exquisitely dull

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As a few that know me will attest, I’m no fan of the Apple organisation, but as a designer myself I do like their product design – and most especially what they have done in making consumers aware that good design can command a premium. I very much like the idea that quality isn’t cheap. Nice one Steve, I’ll give you that.

Actually, when I say I do like their product design (not that I own any of it) – it suddenly struck me the other day that what I mean is that I used to like their product design. It was while watching a client talking on his iPhone that it occured to be how bland it now seems as an object and the very latest 4S version (launched today) is no less so. Indeed, when I took time out to look closely again at Apple’s range of offerings – really closely – the feeling of aesthetic satiation was tangible. Those stripped back, ultra-refined modernist forms, characterised by their near-miraculous micron-perfect edge and radii detailing that once seemed so beautifully rarified and restrained  now seem – to my eyes at least – to be frankly boring. Unimaginative even. Take a fresh look at the original iPod – once so damn clean and simple that it was almost as though the circle and the rectangle had only just been invented. But does it not now look rather, er, shall we say, unremarkable?

The design strategy of stripping things back further and further to ever more subtle and barely visible detailing – in a process I once memorably heard described by a product designer as ‘ant fucking’, (presumably on the basis that only an ant could see and appreciate such close attention to detail ), has resulted in a sort of nouvelle cuisine of product design; it’s pretty and small, expensive and yet ultimately, rather unsatisfying.

Which is why, after so much nouvelle cuisine design, I’m ready for something a bit more substantial and meaty.