The Construction Barrier
as a Brand Delivery Vehicle, 2011
Isn't it interesting how some places and some people have such elegance about them? They're the places you enjoy being and the people you enjoy being around. They have such an easy grace about them. I've never created such a space and I’m certainly not one of those people. But I am discerning or open enough to recognize them when I see them.
Proportions have a lot to do with why these places and people work. Architects know there are certain proportional relationships that, when employed correctly, create spaces toward which people will gravitate. Likewise, fashion designers know there are certain fabrics and cuts that will give the people who wear them an air of effortless elegance.
I noticed during my recent trip to New York that the Fifth Avenue Apple Store is undergoing renovation. I’m talking about the store located one level below the plaza of the General Motors Building. The store itself looks like every other Apple Store in the nation. What sets this one apart, though, is the 32’ by 32’ by 32’ glass cube that sits atop it and serves as the store entrance. Inside the cube are a circular glass staircase wrapped around a transparent elevator. It's a very clean, elegant and modern addition to one of the most premium retail locations in the country.
Media reports say that the store’s renovation is being done mostly to add retail space down below. All Apple Stores get updated regularly, but usually at nights and in such an incremental way that the changes do not jar anyone and seem to make the Apple in-store experience, if anything, only more simple and intuitive.
In the case of the Fifth Avenue store, however, the renovation includes rebuilding the glass cube. I don’t know that there were any problems with the old cube. Whatever the case, Apple designed and installed a giant wooden box around the glass cube. It's painted the same gray and white colors used in the Apple stores. It’s not like those giant printed screens they drape over historic buildings undergoing renovation in Italy so that visitors can still get a sense of what the façade looks like. But neither does the Apple store take the easy way out, which would have been to throw up some steel scaffolding and cover it, if at all, with unadorned plywood.
The Cubes Within a Box, 2011
Copy (painted in Apple’s trademark sans serif style) on the side of the wooden box explains that the use of larger seamless pieces of glass will make it possible for Apple to reduce the number of pieces of glass in the cube from ninety to just fifteen.
Isn’t that like Apple to take something that was already elegant and working just fine, thank you, and spend an ungodly amount of money to replace it with something even more elegant and simple?
Much is being written and speculated about what might happen to Apple after Steve Jobs is gone. Jobs hires a lot of smart people at Apple. But it’s well known that he is the company’s ultimate style czar. The glass cube over the Fifth Avenue Apple Store is testament to that. A less driven retailer might have decided that a traditional set of stairs and doorways would have worked just as well. But Jobs has known all along that the way Apple products are presented is just as important a part of the delivery of the brand as the products themselves.
Years ago, management guru Regis McKenna coined the phrase "Quality is free" to describe how smart and cost-efficient it is to design and construct things extremely well at the outset, even if it costs a little more, instead of having to go back and make more costly corrections and repairs later on. The businesses that took McKenna’s counsel to heart have tended to be more successful than their peers because they have value strengths that go beyond merely manufacturing capable products.
In a world where there are any number of makers of “capable products,” Apple’s investment in updated its Fifth Avenue cube is evidence that “design matters” and that good design applied to capable products multiplies their perceived value.