In Praise of Great Design


Steve Jobs and Others Have Been on to Something That Makes Our Lives Better

Many years ago, Steve Jobs made it clear to his employees that he was as fixated on design as he was on technology. Stories abound about how he drove people nuts over the smallest design elements. This was as true for packaging as it was for the products in those cleverly designed boxes. That lead has been widely followed now, in many industries.

I recently purchased another Amazon echo dot (we have a house full of these things now). As I worked through the packaging, I thought to myself that somewhere the ghost of Jobs was smiling. The box I was handling looked like vintage Apple packaging. It was pleasing to the eye, had desirable colors and textures. It balanced easy to open features with good product security. It felt less like opening a box and more like opening a present.

The folks who provide the TED talks ( share the same vision. TED, after all, stands for Technology, Education, Design. The founders of TED made their fortunes, in part, by recognizing the power of good design.

Good industrial design is not exactly a new thing; it has a long history, especially in America. But it has taken on new importance and visibility as a discipline in recent years. This has been to our shared advantage. I admit that I was not always an admirer. For some time, this seemed to me to be little more than window dressing. My interest was in the hardware or software, not the damn box. Over time, I came to realize that I was missing an important concept.

Design permeates everything in the companies that do this well. No component is too small, no detail unimportant. If you have not already done so, read up about the efforts to design door handles for Tesla automobiles. This is a classic example of fixating on a detail but doing so for a valid reason. No one involved in that experience left with any doubt that design was a central element of the company. The end result was problem plagued initially. But eventually this feature became a calling card for Tesla.

That is a baseline concept for the product, or the service, of course. But it is also as important for the packaging or visual delivery online. The concept is that everything is connected seamlessly. Experience with the packaging should be like your experience with the product. The packaging is the first experience you have with the product. That packaging should evoke the ambiance and nature of the product. Once I realized that, I appreciated what was invested to get this part of the experience right.

Here are two rather different examples I see in my daily life of getting the design part right.

First, the next time you get a package from Amazon, take a moment to examine the tape that seals the box. It likely will be a medium blue or black. It is a marvel of just right design and fabrication. The tape’s colors, wording, and font are surprisingly eye catching. The tape is razor thin, much thinner than a typical sheet of paper. It seems water resistant and very strong. You can turn a heavy package upside down, putting the weight against the box top seam held by the tape. No problem. You can twist or torque the box and the tape holds without fail.

Yet when you are ready to open the box, a sharp blow to the tape seam allows it to split. Opening the box is easy. Amazon must use a LOT of tape. They spent their money well. They got this one right, in both form and function. A small thing, but a pleasure to see something done so well. This is perfectly designed and produced tape. It does everything it should do, flawlessly.

Second, the Quip electric toothbrush. All those online advertisements finally got to me. I started using one of these devices a couple of months ago. Again, perfect design and high utility. Consider the case, for example. It is a small but very tough plastic tube. On the back side is a strip of material with exceptional holding power. This is due to micro holes that create very strong suction on any smooth service. No adhesives needed. Your toothbrush is at hand and well stored when not in use.

When travelling, that mounting case becomes a travelling case. It keeps the brush clean and protected. Upon arrival at your destination, flip the tooth brush over so the bristles are showing. Press the case against a smooth surface and it is once again mounted and ready to go. A perfectly designed system. Add to that, a low-cost option that sends the owner new brush heads and batteries every so often. And this thing includes a timer to ensure you brush an adequate amount of time. The whole thing is about half the size and weight of other electric tooth brushes. Again, an excellent user experience. The packaging and instructions were attractive, highly usable, and well made. Overall, a remarkably good consumer experience with the lowly toothbrush. Nicely done.

So, kudos to those who create valuable experiences like this for all of us. On the one hand, this is really small stuff in the scheme of life. On the other hand, these are reminders of the power of craftsmanship and attention to detail. If you have noted such items or services in your life, based on quality and innovative design, share them with us.

       Bill Clontz

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4 replies to In Praise of Great Design

  1. Bill, you’re only looking at the front end and not considering the consequences of the packaging. How did you have to dispose of it? How much of it was marked for recycling? Could the product have been delivered in a more planet friendly format? These are important issues for the survival of us on the planet. (The planet will survive, but may not be a nice place for humans to live?)

    God Bless Steve Jobs he was able to put himself in the customers mindset and anticipate what they would like. The best example I can think of is the charging plug. Plug orientation doesn’t matter on the Apple products where on all other products you have to figure out which way the stupid little plug needs to be oriented…….a little thing, but very important from a customer standpoint. Steve was a pure new product thinker and as such “knew” he was always correct……and he was most of the time. However, that made him a real SOB to have to work with…..typical of new product folks. Without Steve I worry about Apple……they seem to have regressed to the bigger screen, bigger battery folks without the Steve Jobs new product innovations.

    • Hey, Jim. We actually did that discussion first. It was the focus of a post in July, on those same issues you mentioned, and some other ones as well. Would have been a good thing on my part to put in a reminder and a link with this posting. Thanks for the reminder. For those who missed or want to revisit that one, you may find it at

      Jim, since you and I are in the same place, I hope you caught the article yesterday in our local paper about the crisis in our local recycling. It follows a national pattern of the mixed stream recycling, which we all like, being too inefficient and contaminant prone. In addition, the market for recycled materials is actually shrinking.

      As you noted (and as did the post in July, we need to think about less packaging to begin with, not just recycling the debris.

      And, boy are you right about electrical plugs! Don’t get me started either on too many battery sizes and shapes!🙄

  2. Cats seem to be ahead of us regarding loving boxes! Kidding aside, thank you for describing Amazon tape. I will pay more attention to it. They say the devil is in the details, and Steve was into details. Less is more.

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