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Design Thinking Case Study: Apple & Focus on Users

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Apple's user-oriented focus dominates its business, from its smallest products to its largest. In this lesson, you'll learn more about how Apple's retail stores have succeeded using a design thinking process.

Apple's Innovation

There's no question that Apple has consistently been on the cutting edge of innovation since its modest early days housed inside of a garage in Los Altos, California. Think of some of Apple's creations:

  • Candy-colored iMacs with their translucent plastic housing.
  • The portable music player of the early 2000s, known as the iPod, that could put your entire music library in the palm of your hand.
  • Wearable technology to monitor your workout or help you make a phone call in the form of a watch.

Leaders at Apple have said its biggest product is its Apple Store locations.
apple, store, design, thinking, user, experience

Today, more than four decades removed from its humble beginnings, the company responsible for a smattering of devices from the iPad to Apple TV is still considered one of the most innovative companies in the world. They brought out the iPhone X with facial recognition software. The company's wireless earbuds, known as AirPods, have transformed users' music-listening experience.

And, they're not done yet. Rumored product launches always draw a ton of conjecture and speculation about which devices the company will upgrade, optimize and expand on to make them better, quicker and more user-friendly.

What drives this company and keeps them at the top of the retail heap? All you have to do is ask its CEO, Tim Cook.

User Focus and Design Thinking

Apple makes no secret of what drives everything that happens inside its massive compound in Cupertino, California: its end users. In one recent interview, Cook said, ''Our products are all about the people who use them. What drives us is making products that give people the ability to do things they couldn't do before.''

Sure, user focus is what many companies purport as the driving force behind its operations. Apple not only talks the talk, but walks the walk in this regard. The company puts a premium on design thinking in all of its products. That starts with figuring out what customers really want, developing products based on identified needs, and then creating prototypes and testing them to see how successful they are.

For example, Apple's operating system was built by focusing on what consumers wanted and then figuring out how to achieve it on the technical side. From the smallest detail of Apple packaging to what the company calls its ''largest product,'' the user experience is never far from Apple employees' minds. In fact, that ''largest product'' is what this case study is focused on.

Apple Store

Apple has long had a presence online, but they added what they've coined as their ''largest product'' in May 2001, when the first Apple Store opened in Tysons Corner, Virginia. The move to a brick-and-mortar store was questionable at best, after fellow computer company Gateway failed at the effort and other technology-based retail locations were struggling to keep their doors open.

Customer Experience

Everything about the Apple Store, from the products it features to its very design, is founded on design thinking principles. The first step toward building the Apple Store, according to a former executive, was capturing store characteristics that would make the consumer experience unforgettable.

Apple focused on hiring the right people - not salespeople, but rather, personalities that consumers could connect with, drawing on the idea that people preferred face-to-face conversations when having device problems as opposed to over-the-phone help (which they also provide).

Drawing on Apple's ''cult-like'' sense of community, the company also opted for an environment that felt less like a sales floor and more like a space where Apple fans could hang out, check their email and interact with the products.

Testing and Prototyping

Before ever opening its first location in Virginia, Apple was testing prototypes of what it thought its stores could be. The company tested more than 30 outlets inside bigger electronics stores in Japan and even built an entire Apple Store model in a Cupertino warehouse to test its design and make necessary tweaks.

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