Graphic designers know that even the smallest detail matters, even if overlooked by most. Take, for example, the arrow in the FedEx logo that drives the subliminal message of motion. The designers’ partners in crime – marketing wordsmiths called copywriters – also wring their hands over every word and beat.
Among tech companies, Apple has been the best about design. The late Steve Jobs made every decision inside Apple Stores, including the look of the glass staircase. He demanded Apple use for its tagline the grammatically incorrect phrase, “Think Different” (as opposed to “Think Differently”).
So it’s no surprise that Apple’s invitations to its events are exactly the way Apple wants them to be, too. Everything in them is there for a reason. Through design and words, they are often chock full of hints into the coming event. The devil, as graphic designers are wanton to say, is in the details.
I spoke with Steve Yamaguma, president and creative director of Design2Market, a long-time Silicon Valley design firm serving tech companies, for his insights into three Apple invitations, with emphasis on the latest one for the March 7 event, which is expected to be the unveiling of the next iPad.
“Apple has always been known for its innovative, striking and clever invitations that help the ‘buzz’ factor for the launch of their new products,” he says. (Check out Yamaguma’s take on Apple’s planned “spaceship” campus.)
This week, Apple sent out this invitation to a March 7 event in San Francisco. Given Apple’s product-release timeline, the event is largely considered to be about the next iPad – will it be called the iPad 3 or iPad 2 HD?
For starters, some observers have pointed out that the iPad in the image lacks a home button. Will the new iPad not have a home button? Others say it is because the iPad is in landscape mode. Either way, the fact that the home button isn’t shown highlights the point that the iPad is about touch and echoes Jobs’ disdain for physical buttons.
I found it interesting that one of the app icons in the background is Apple’s Keynote ($10), part of the iWorks suite that goes head-to-head with Microsoft Office and Powerpoint. Apple might be making a counterpoint given all the discussion recently about getting Microsoft Office on the iPad.
Yamaguma thinks the invitation’s words really speak to the form factor of the next iPad. The first sentence about “something you really have to see” probably alludes to a higher resolution, possibly a Retina display. The latter words about touch may mean there will be new features aimed at interactivity on the iPad.
The overall feeling of the invitation’s design is about function, as opposed to the colorful invitation to the event that launched the first iPad. “Since there are a lot of new competitors in the marketplace, the ‘splashy wow’ factor is displaced by what [the iPad] can do for you,” Yamaguma says.
You don’t need to have special attention to detail to understand what Apple was thinking on this invitation. It’s the invitation for the January 27, 2010 event that introduced the iPad to the world. The colors were a direct assault on the black-and-white Amazon Kindle, which predated the iPad by two years.
“Splashy colors surrounding the Apple logo gave a sense of something new, exciting, come-and-see,” Yamaguma says, “very appropriate for the new iPad.”
This invitation was for the October 4, 2011, event that unveiled the iPhone 4S. The design plays up the usefulness of apps that provide essential information: date, time and location. The phone icon with the “number one” message in the corner drives home the point that this event is going to be all about the iPhone.
On a side note, I wonder if Apple planned the event on the 4th of the month for a reason. At the time, industry watchers were anticipating the next iPhone to be called iPhone 5. Was Apple trying to pass along the message that it would still be an “iPhone 4” with the date?
The copy, though, is the real clue: “Let’s talk iPhone.” In hindsight, we now know that the words were about Siri, the new voice-recognition feature baked into the iPhone 4S and tapping into Apple’s massive data centers.
As it happened, Siri was in the invitation all along.
Tom Kaneshige has been covering business and technology in Silicon Valley for two decades. As senior online writer at CIO.com, Tom covers Silicon Valley culture, BYOD and consumer tech in the enterprise.