Should brand aversion cloud good design?

09 November 2009

Following an influx of feedback in relation to October’s cover story on the Apple Mac, Al Dean was saddened to realise that some design never gets appreciated simply because of what it stands for in society

Last month’s cover story was all about the rise of Apple’s hardware products in the design market. For a magazine that’s devoted to technology used within product development, this seemed like a good move. After all, there’s a renewed activity in the platform with native applications. And of course, it’s Apple. Everyone likes Apple, right? It would appear not.

I’m used to getting rather odd emails from readers, people looking for assistance with projects they’re working on (the designer of the ultimate slide rule springs to mind) and over the years we’ve seen our fair share of email that can be safely stored in the “slightly peculiar” folder. But we’ve never been accused of “macfaggotry” before. It appears that one of our readers took umbrage with the coverage, citing the fact that he didn’t like Apple, what its products stood for and the sheep like nature of its fans. He was so incensed that he asked to cancel his free subscription.

Clockwise from left to right: Naoto Fukasawa’s wall mounted CD player for Muji, the Objectified DVD artwork, Apple’s Jonathan Ive and the offending item from the October edition of DEVELOP3D, an Apple Mac

I have to say I was a bit taken aback. That by covering a single hardware vendor, amongst the many others we write about each month, could elicit such a response. But when you get a brand that is loved so passionately by some it’s obvious that you will get an equally strong and opposite reaction.

The thing is people don’t necessarily hate Macs for what they do, and how they are designed, they hate them for what they represent. And for some that’s a pretentious wannabe author sipping a cappuccino in Starbucks, pondering life and his latest novel - or so says the YouTube clips we’ve seen.

Of course I understand that people want to distance themselves from such stereotypes, but it’s sad when design is disregarded out of hand for what it, or rather the brand, stands for - and not for what it does. Many Mac detractors - and I admit I used to be one - have never even used a Mac.

Luckily, not all design is not clouded by what it represents in society. Good design is good design and like the Apple products I love, is usually most successful when it’s unobtrusive.

This was hammered home to me recently when watching the film Objectified, Gary Huswit’s impressive follow up to his successful documentary about a single typeface, Helvetica. This time he turned his attention to Industrial Design and took a look at the people behind some of the world’s most beautifully designed products.

What follows is a rather wonderful one hour and fifteen minutes of interviews with some of the leading lights of the design world. It features the older masters like Dieter Rams and Naoto Fukasawa, the big headliners like Karim Rashid and Marc Newson and arguably more influential but less known, such as the team at Smart Design.

The film presents some beautiful examples of design. Smart Design’s work on Good Grips kitchenwear is an elegant rework of a purely functional object that serves its purpose beautifully. Complex functions are hidden within a wonderfully simple form in Dieter Ram’s canon of work with Braun. Or for true Japanese minimalism, there’s Naoto Fukasawa’s wall mounted CD player for Muji.

Of course, it also features Jonathan Ive of Apple, who talks about the simplicity of design, the design of simplicity and the simple pleasure in holding a nicely designed object. And this is how many people feel when using a Mac. They like its simple form. They like the simplicity and stability of OS X. And they like the quality of the hardware.

While digesting the impact that a simple computer could have on someone’s emotions, I smiled to myself as I realised that DEVELOP3D was conceived on an Apple Mac, by four guys sat around a cappuccino-laden table in Starbucks. I don’t for one minute think that anyone thought we were pretentious authors collaborating on our latest novel, but hey, who knows? The fruit-based logo has been known to invoke strange reactions in people.

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) is Editor of DEVELOP3D. He doesn’t understand how people think it’s acceptable to use homophobic-derived words, simply because it’s a ‘widely-used term’.

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