Apple's Power Over Design, in 4 Words

Even Silicon Valley's most influential designers are Apple fanboys.

"Apple just permeates everything."

That's according to Dave Morin, the designer of Facebook Platform and Facebook Connect and the CEO of Path.

At a panel about design at the Aspen Ideas Festival this afternoon, Morin discussed the power that Apple wields -- not just as a company, but as an aesthetic and a design philosophy. John Doerr, the Kleiner Perkins venture capitalist and the panel's moderator, asked Morin about the extent to which Apple affects both the design of Path as a company and the design aesthetic it embraces.

"One hundred percent," Morin said. 

"One hundred percent?" Doerr asked. 

"It runs really deep," Morin replied. Morin, before joining Facebook, did marketing at Apple. He was there when the iPod was first released, and reminded the Aspen audience that the product wasn't, at first, the game-changing success story it's regarded as today. (In fact, in those early days, Apple was giving iPods away -- to, for example, students at Duke University.) The company gambled on where things were heading; it also trusted consumers to catch up to its vision.

"Apple's commitment to long-term ideas, to not just create the design but to really commit to an idea over the long term -- that permeates Path through and through," Morin said. "The strategy that we're pursuing is not an easy one, and it takes a long period of time." But it worked for Apple; and Morin is betting -- and hoping -- that it will work for Path.  

Mike McCue, the founder of FlipBoard, agreed about Apple's influence on his work and his company -- but from a design perspective. "When I sit down in front of an Apple product," he said, "I feel like whatever work I'm doing needs to live up to the design of that Apple product. It inspires me." 

"It's kind of the new blank sheet of paper," he continued. "When you sit down in front of an Apple product, you feel like you're working with the best paper, the best materials -- and now it's up to you as a craftsperson to do something great."

The industrial designer Yves Behar made the point about Apple's "pervasive" power by dissenting against it. (And only in part because, as he said of the panel, "it's a little bit too much of an Apple-fest right now.") 

"On the one hand," Behar conceded, "Steve Jobs and Apple certainly have made my life a lot easier." And Apple has also, he noted, brought a kind of explicit design consciousness into the public mind. Apple has made many people think about design as design. "Everybody out there," Behar noted, "is much more conscious of design thanks to Apple." 

The problem, though, is that Apple's influence on design may perhaps be too great. "I've spent my career in meetings with people walking in and saying, 'We want to be the Apple of this,' or 'Can you make this look like an Apple?'" Behar noted. The consciousness out there has been that something "is either Apple or it's not worth looking at." 

Apple's influence on design, in other words, is also a kind of tyranny over design. Again, those four little words: "Apple just permeates everything."

Which is unfortunate, Behar concluded -- because, of course, "there isn't just one way to do good design." 

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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