A Human Experience Designed By Apple


Apple’s ads are always talked about.

And of course you can always expect a pseudo-intellectual contrarian perspective in editorial journalism. It’s disgustingly pervasive in tech journalism of all things. These people mysteriously see things the rest of us do not. Overarching themes and intentions are assigned to malign whatever popular notion is in their path.

It’s really all just a load of bull. What they’re really looking for is a voice, because being contrary is cool and will allow their voice to be heard. Ironically, this form of forced elitism causes them to talk down something they’re a part. This faux-bravery is celebrated and linked in the media apparatus. You’d recognize the headlines, ‘Founder of X regrets X,’ ‘John Doe leaves the church of X,’ or ‘Person in party X will vote for ticket Y.’

Tim O’Reilly, a well respected open source and free software advocate and technology book publisher, endorsed an editorial by Mark Wilson in FastCompany’s CoDesign where he prophesies (I wish I were kidding) that Apple’s true intent is that “people actively turn away from life to engage with their technology.” Wilson tells his readers the whole of man will understand in 20 years what he does today. O’Reilly tweeted for his followers to “take it seriously.”

In the ad, Wilson sees the following:

  • A woman closes her eyes on the subway to soak in electronic music.
  • A room of students looks down at their desks instead of at their teacher.
  • A parent and child cuddle, focused on a screen that’s so powerful it illuminates the kid’s face.
  • A couple kisses in the rain, then immediately turn away to look at a phone.
  • A tourist opts to FaceTime instead of bathing in visceral, smoky yakitori.

That’s not at all what I saw and I believe that’s not what Apple intended. And not just the marketing gurus at the company, but the designers and engineers behind the products that add to our human experience.

Now watch the ad. See the woman connecting with art after a long day at work in contrast to the busy, dirty city subway she rides home. Observe the children of a rapidly-expanding economy participating in an interactive Q&A on an advanced platform and how they race to be the first to engage the teacher. Recall the warmth you felt cuddled up against your parent on the couch to watch television when they returned home for the day and see the boy enjoy his father’s same embrace while the father enjoys the child’s wonder of an interactive game. Peek in on a couple vacationing together to share a kiss and then wanting to capture that memory with a photo.

Keep watching. It has nothing to do with hardware.

I see a stranger alone in another country using Apple’s FaceTime to share his first experience of eastern cuisine with a friend. I see a DJ enjoying his craft that was first produced on a canvas that was affordable enough for him to start early with no formal training made possible by Apple’s Garage Band. I see a couple celebrating 50 years of marriage watching memories slide by from across the decades powered by Apple’s iPhoto. And finally I see a high school senior cramming in some late night homework being interrupted by the secure iMessage from friend alleviating, but for a moment, the pressure of the big test tomorrow.

Technology is not a being, it’s an object. Does Wilson object to the polaroid camera to capture a moment for future generations? What about the bicycle? Or the wheel?

Are we less human, less attached to our environment because we use technology? Like with any object it can be used improperly. But I contend that with new technology, in this instance Apple’s– the opportunity to be more engaged with our families, friends, interests, art, and the physical environment is limitless.

“[O]ur gadgets are designed to constantly lure us back into the four-inch world,” writes Wilson. This “four-inch world” holds the connection to my mother who lives on the west coast, or one of my two brothers who live 1,500 miles from me. It allows me to share the inspiration from my morning walk. This same tool allows me to connect with everyone from Johnny Cash to Jay-Z, artists who speak to my life experiences. Looking at my iPhone, I notice that about a third of my of my apps are productivity apps, essential for a creative small-business

We do need to make technology, and largely the Internet, more human, but that does not begin with misinterpreting Apple’s “Designed in California” ad.

One of the most astounding of Wilson’s contentions is that Apple’s entire content is wrong, “This is it. This is what matters. The experience of a product.” He writes that it should be, “This is it. This is what matters. The experience of a person” and that design at it’s heart should be “a service for humanity.”

Bull. Good design, beautiful art, has it roots purely in the enjoyment of the creator.

A company or a person can and should design something of beauty and excellence for it’s own sake. It will be profitable if it fills a place of use and enjoyment for people and profitable businesses live in that reality. Companies should not be cow-towed by critics saying they should do more in “service for humanity.”

After all, the subject of “the experience of a product” is human! What Apple didn’t say was “This is it. This is what matters. The product experience.” That would be a justifiable error — one that puts the product above the human. Wilson would be right to point out the relation to the human being glorified instead of the extension it allows for human experiences. I would chalk this up to a simple misunderstanding of language, but some skeptics enjoy being skeptical for the sake of being contrary.


Daniel Webb contributed to this piece.