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How Might Service Design Live at Apple

Posted March 20, 2015

I ran across this interview with Tim Cook: Tim Cook on Apple’s Future: Everything Can Change Except Values  published on Fast Company on March 18, 2015. The whole thing is pretty great, but I wanted to put an excerpt here that I find resonates me more than the rest. It is in regards to the Apple ecosystem, and what I’d call the “service design” of what Apple has created. The interconnectedness of not only their products, software, hardware, and services, but the interconnectedness of the experience across time and space.

I haven’t really seen “service design” as a phrase used when talking about Apple, I think they transcended that so long ago that it’s just seen as the “Apple way.” But as I read the excerpt below, it really felt like the goal of what a service design and an organization who wants to present truly cohesive experiences that have both the breadth across context, channel, and time, as well as the depth between the systems, policies, planning and processes that go on below the surface.

It’s really an example of what I want to do wherever I go in my work, and what I see as the pinnacle for truly seamless and design experiences well beyond the touchpoint.

Rich Tetzeli:

Steve always said that the difference between Apple and other computing companies was that Apple made “the whole widget.” At first, that meant making the hardware and software for a computer, or for a device like the iPod. But now the “widget” is bigger. It’s become the whole “Apple experience,” meaning the universe of iPhones, iPads, and Macs, and now the watch, trying to work seamlessly with cloud services, content from any number of musicians and filmmakers and video producers, and so on. It’s one big mother of a widget. Is it really manageable, or are we beginning to see cracks, because there’s just so much to maintain across so many different interfaces? Microsoft ran into the same problem when it tried to be all things to all people with its operating system.

Tim Cook:

I think it’s different. Part of the reason Microsoft ran into an issue was that they didn’t want to walk away from legacy stuff.

Apple has always had the discipline to make the bold decision to walk away. We walked away from the floppy disk when that was popular with many users. Instead of doing things in the more traditional way of diversifying and minimizing risk, we took out the optical drive, which some people loved. We changed our connector, even though many people loved the 30-pin connector. Some of these things were not popular for quite a while. But you have to be willing to lose sight of the shore and go. We still do that.

It’s more complex to do things like continuity. Now the customer wants to start an email on their iPhone and complete it on their iPad or Mac. They want a seamless experience across all of the products. When you’re only doing a Mac, that seamless experience is a party of one. Now you’ve got a three-dimensional thing, and the cloud. So it is more complex. There’s no doubt.

What we try to do is hide all of that complexity from the user. We hide the fact that doing this is really tough, hard engineering so that the user can go about their day and use our tools the way they would want and not have to worry about it. Sometimes we’re not perfect with that. That’s the crack that you’re talking about. Sometimes we’re not. But that, too, we will fix.

In my mind, there is nothing that’s incorrect about our model. It’s not that it’s not doable, it’s that we’re human sometimes, and we make an error. I don’t have a goal of becoming inhuman, but I do have a goal of not having any errors. We’ve made errors in the past, and we’ll never be perfect. Fortunately, we have the courage to admit it and correct it.

Read the entire article on Fast Company’s website.


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I love all things experience design. I work as a Principal Service Experience Designer at Intuit in Mountain View, CA.