Apple and the democratization of design

Most people don’t fully appreciate how affordable Apple products are. Yes, I said affordable. Recent talk about Apple Watch pricing - from the price of the entry model at $349 to speculation on the price of the gold models - reminded me that Apple’s reputation for high-priced products is overstated. In fact, I think Apple has done more than any company to bring high quality and high design to the masses.

Paul Goldberger captured this thought perfectly in a 2013 Vanity Fair article:

The democratization of high modern design was a dream that began with the early modernists in Europe nearly a century ago, and for a long time it was mostly an illusion. The Bauhaus designers in Germany in the 1920s, for example, espoused theories about modern design as a popular movement, but they produced mainly expensive, handcrafted objects. The rare Bauhaus designs that have become common, like Marcel Breuer’s Cesca dining chair of cane and tubular steel, are generally compromised versions, cheap copies that are easier to manufacture than the more complex originals. Jonathan Ive’s designs for Apple are different: the mass-market version is the pure version, done without compromise. Ive, who was knighted last year, is one of the first designers to have actually achieved the Bauhaus dream of bringing high-end modern design to almost every level of society

How mass-market? Apple has sold over 1 billion iOS devices. At the same time, Apple has almost single handedly raised the level of quality and design in other products - pushing, inspiring … almost requiring others to follow.

But what about Apple Watch? From that same article:

“The most important thing is that you actually care, that you do something to the very best of your ability,” Ive told me. “We can’t explain it in a fiscal sense, but the care that goes into the iPhone is equivalent to what goes into watches and other things that are significantly more expensive. I love the idea that the phone will be so broadly accessible.” What excites Ive most about the iPhone, in other words, isn’t just its elegance as an object; it’s the fact that he and Jobs managed to manufacture an object designed to his demanding specifications that could still be affordable by the mass market.

It’s almost as if Jony was talking about the Apple Watch - a fashionable miniature computer of Apple quality and design starting at $349.

Note: This idea of Apple and the democratization of design is one reason why I think the Edition models of Apple Watch (the gold ones), while certainly expensive, may end up being priced lower than some think. Perhaps more on that later.