There was a time when technology was perceived as the domain of the pocket protected nerd, working late nights in a darkened room while scoffing subway sandwiches. Oh, how times have changed. Glitzy smartphone announcements are now the online version of a Paris fashion show, and tech companies sit comfortably among the top ten lists of the most powerful brands.
To cap this, Apple announced this week that they have hired Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts to lead all aspects of their retail business, including online. This follows their hire of ex-Yves Saint Laurent CEO Paul Deneve to work on special projects.
Clearly there is a theme here.
No surprise that designers from Karl Largerfeld to Kate Spade have created smartphone accessories to tap into the tech market, but Apple's high profile hires tell us something else. While there's been fuss about Burberry's social media tactics, it is actually fashion design's impact on the broader consumer that is exciting.
Fashion's sphere of influence has now gone beyond what we buy at H&M, or the celebrities we drool over. Design thinking by some of the world's great fashion houses is now changing the consumer products we buy and the design of the retail experience. In fairness, this is not a totally new occurrence. Pantone issues an annual colour forecast, influencing everything from fashion to house paint and the colour of car we drive. Retail giant Target arguably built its reputation on design, commissioning renowned designer Michael Graves to create a line of kettles and kitchen accessories. Some of this shine has since been lost but the company remains committed to design and innovation, continuing partnerships with Missoni and recently Peter Pilotto, a stand-out at this years London Fashion Week.
The move by Ahrendts to Apple amplifies this. The meticulous attention to detail we see in the design and service quality of a Burberry store are beacons for the brand, telling us what we should expect from the product itself. Of course this makes business sense too. Ahrendts famously said that we should all own a Burberry product: "In our mind, everyone in the world should have a trench coat, and there should be a trench coat for everyone in the world." I have no doubt she feels the same about an iPhone or iPad.
Will Ahrendts have a direct impact on the future design of Apple products? Unlikely with Jony Ive at the helm. Ive is the seemingly Teflon-coated creator of successes from iPhone to iOS7, and for some the true inheritor of Steve Job's zen-like approach to design purity.
However, with such design sensitivity in the C-suite, the great opportunity is to demonstrate that mass market need not mean the dumbing down of design. Rather, that we can elevate the everyday through well-designed products and experiences. Ironically, the rarified world of high fashion may be just the place to start.
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