The recent introduction of the iPhone has me thinking again about how Apple excels at communicating a consistent personality for each of their products… What’s this about ‘products as personalities’ you ask? In their book, the Media Equation, Reeves and Nass from Stanford show that we unconsciously attribute personalities to even simple media and technology. So what does this have to do with Apple? Over the years, Apple has proven itself to be a major player when it comes to designing for emotion.
What does personality have to do with emotion? Well, one way to see personality is as an emotion that is displayed over a long period of time. Obviously, the issue of personality is much too complex a topic to sum up with that one statement. However, we often label the personalities of others in that simple a fashion.
Think about it for a second. If a co-worker comes into the office one day looking sad, you might figure they’re having a bad day. If a co-worker comes into the office everyday for a month or two looking sad, you’d begin to attribute a personality trait to that person. The person appears to be sad and depressed. If you had just started a new job in the office, and you’d never seen that person in a good mood, it would be even easier to label them as depressed. Whether that label is factual or not is beside the point.
Steve Jobs, like other advocates of making emotion a major consideration in design, has mastered the fine art of presenting consistent personalities for the products his company develops. We expect people to behave in a somewhat consistent manner. A friend who acts one way today, and completely differently the next, probably won’t be your friend for long, (unless of course you have masochistic tendencies).
Products are no different. Whether you love or hate its products, it’s hard to deny that Apple has mastered the art of communicating a consistent personality. From the industrial design, to the user interface, to the interaction design, to the marketing and packaging, each Apple product has a consistent personality. The clean, simple silhouettes in Apple’s commercials for the iPod reflected the personality of the product. The industrial design and physical interface of the iPod itself were also clean and simple. The user interface and iTunes integration (although becoming richer and more complex with every release) started off similarly sparse. The packaging is devoid of the extraneous messaging that plagues other products.
Many products clearly reflect the fact that many people contributed to the development of their design and marketing. The personality is inconsistent. Friendly and simple at one point, complex and technically oriented the next.
I’m not advocating that any one personality is better than any other. Different personalities appeal to different people. But consistent personalities make it easier for everyone to find products that appeal to them. If you are involved in the development of products, think about what the personality of your product, its interface, marketing and packaging communicate to your customers.