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How Apple Uses Iterative Design

To Experiment and Innovate in Product, Customer Success, and Marketing
Brett Friedman

The Company

Apple. Another household name. A record-breaking company worth $2 Trillion, a feat impressive given its $1T valuation just two years ago. They make computers. And related tech.

While it's hard to claim their ridiculous growth is solely because of their iteration process, it absolutely played a major role in their growth over the past 42 years of operating. As Picasso once said when asked for big money for a napkin he drew on, "It took me 40 years [to make this]."

The Experiment(s) Pt. 1

Apple's design process was once the best-kept secret in business. Lucky for us, in 2013, journalist Adam Lashinsky brought us a deep dive of their ANPP: Apple New Product Process, the very process they've used for just about everything Jony Ive has overseen e.g. the original mac, the iPod, iPad, and so on. It takes the form of a detailed checklist, but overall, it looks like this:

  1. A secretive, secluded start-up is formed and provided with near-unlimited resources to play with
  2. Multiple product designs are mocked up and prototyped
  3. Every Monday, the executive team reviews designs
  4. A Supply Manager and Engineering Manager oversee production with full authority to make key changes
  5. Post-production redesigns begin along with internal beta testing
  6. Stages 2-6 repeat until product is perfected

The same process is then applied in the packaging department before the final launch.  


The Experiment(s) Pt. 2

Post-launch, products hit Apple's retail stores. In that environment, iterative customer involvement gains tantamount importance. Every customer interaction is recorded, every pain point noted, every desired feature evaluated for worthiness. As Apple employees get input, they update the system with which they handle customer needs. As the system updates, it gets better information, and the cycle repeats until a new need is discovered. At that point, a new product starts the ANPP.


The Experiment(s) Pt. 3

Using that same customer data and the iterative process of product design, Apple's churns out brilliant, award-winning ads. Their sole purpose: word-of-mouth. And they've done well. So well, in fact, that Apple's ad campaigns have a dedicated Wikipedia page.  

We've taken a quick look at Apple's 1984 ad before, but with minimal detail to their strategy as a whole. In 1977, Apple's investor and partner Mike Markkula laid out a manifesto for Apple's marketing still obeyed to this day.

Point No. 1: Empathy
Apple should strive for an “intimate” connection with customers’ feelings. We will truly understand their needs better than any other company.

Point No. 2: Focus
To be successful, Apple should center its efforts on accomplishing its main goals, and eliminate all the unimportant opportunities.

Point No. 3: Impute
Apple should be constantly aware that companies and their products will be judged by the signals they convey. People DO judge a book by its cover,. We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software etc.; if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities.


The Results

As previously mentioned, Apple is worth $2T. That's more than any other publicly-traded company ever. As of right now, it's also the third most profitable company in the world, up there with Saudi Aramco and Berkshire Hathaway. If you've seen an ad, been to an Apple store, or used an Apple product, you know just how intuitive, enjoyable, and effective they are at fulfilling the need you came to them with. And that success arose from 42 years of rigorous, meticulous, checklist-based experimentation.

The Application

Take a look at how you run your marketing department. Is it restricted by resources? Is it confined by bureaucracy? Try building a small, secluded startup team armed only with customer feedback and your latest product. When they finally emerge with something worth testing, refine it. Then test it and refine it again. Until you can present something in a "creative, professional manner" keep iterating. You'll know when you have something of Apple quality.

Read our full creative testing guide

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