Hard Philosophy is Aifaner’s column reporting on product design. We hope to strip away the cloak of technology and parameters and explore the origins of design and humanity.
Two months before the Wenzhou Apple Store opened, Deirdre O'Brien, Apple's vice president of retail business, released the news in a media interview. Soon after, a poster with local Wenzhou characteristics circulated on social media. It was not until the early morning of three days before the opening that the blue valerian cloth fence was removed. It wasn’t until bloggers and media from all walks of life gathered in Lucheng that this brand new store was unveiled.
Almost every Apple Store opening follows a similar tradition when the iPhone was released. This largest Apple product in history cannot be mass-produced or purchased. However, Apple polishes materials, pays attention to details, applies for patents, and even continuously upgrades and iterates according to the level of consumer electronics products.
Iterations of the Apple Store took years. Just as the iPhone has digital, Pro, and SE models, the Apple Store also has its own product lines, such as Classic and Vintage, and there are upgraded and simplified models under the series, such as Classic Upgrade, Vintage D, and Vintage D.2.
As the 56th new product released in China, the Wenzhou retail store showcased Apple Store's latest design achievement – Vintage E. Currently, only two stores in the world use this design.
The Apple Store is ushering in the biggest change, but it’s invisible to the naked eye
The new store is a store-in-store located on the first floor of Wanxiang City , Ouhai District, Wenzhou.
Through the clear glass of the window, you can clearly see the warm terrazzo, warm oak tables and row upon row of products.
What is not well known is the “green” behind these building materials.
Flooring is the main consumable material in Apple Stores. The original Apple Store had light wood floors, but Jobs thought they were too plain. Inspired by the gray-blue stone on the sidewalks of Florence, Italy, he decided to quarry the stone from the nearby mountains and let the designer select the stone that met the requirements in color, texture, and purity, and cut and mark it.
However, only 3% of the stones meet the requirements. As the number of stores increases sharply, the original stone supply is insufficient, so the Apple Store turns to white marble aggregate terrazzo flooring.
This kind of floor is made of a resin base material mixed with marble fragments, stones, and glass. It has gone through processes such as mixing, mold solidification, grinding and polishing, and finally presents an elegant and high-end texture. The wear-resistant layer reaches AC6 level and there are very few gaps.
However, such substrates are often petroleum-based and do not biodegrade easily.
To do this, Apple used a bio-resin that is a blend of aggregate from Italy and Greece and recycled glass from the UK, reducing the need for chemical resins.
In the energy-intensive construction industry, fossil fuels such as coal and oil are indispensable. Whether it is steel or cement, large amounts of fossil fuels need to be burned, resulting in large amounts of carbon dioxide emissions. The chemical reactions of cement and steel also release large amounts of carbon dioxide as a by-product.
Apple's approach is to reduce the use of petrochemical and carbon-intensive materials and use recyclable and biodegradable plant-based materials. For example, ceiling sunshades are made from plant-based materials rather than metal.
Plant-based materials are not far away from us. The PLA straws that have become popular in the catering industry are plant-based. It is usually made by fermentation and polymerization of corn starch, sugar cane or cassava as raw materials, and can be completely degraded by microorganisms in nature after use.
The practice of sustainability in the new store is no different from Apple’s principles for making electronic products.
Plastic is the largest fossil fuel in electronic products. In order not to create additional plastic, Apple has shouted the slogan "All products will no longer require raw materials from the earth." For example, the plastic used in iPhone antenna strips comes from recycled plastic bottles.
In order to completely eliminate plastic from iPhone packaging, Apple spent three years developing gloss coatings to replace plastic coatings. This new process helped Apple reduce the use of 1,100 metric tons of plastic and 2,400 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
Apple has also customized and developed a high-resolution printing machine that can print directly on the back of the box to replace sticker labels. This increases the fiber content in iPhone 15 packaging materials to 99%.
Apple has even intervened in the raw material manufacturing process. For example, it invested in a company in 2018 to develop carbon-free aluminum metal smelting technology, which allows the production of aluminum metal to produce oxygen instead of greenhouse gases.
Apple Watch is the first product to be carbon neutral because its small size makes it easier to achieve sustainable goals.
As Apple’s largest product, Apple Store is also working hard in this direction.
Apple Store’s “human-computer interaction interface”
There are many urban legends surrounding the cost of Apple Store renovations. It is particularly famous for the iconic glass facade of the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. It is said that a snowplow truck once cracked a piece of glass, which ultimately incurred repair costs for a house. So much so that people often joke that the most affordable item in the Apple Store is the iPhone.
The decoration is also at its peak, but the Apple Store is not as daunting as some luxury stores. It is normal for the Apple Store to be bustling with people, but consumption is not the purpose of everyone's visit. It is normal for passersby to be attracted into the store to play with new mobile phones or take a nap under a tree.
▲ Today at Apple’s desk integrates speakers, USB-C, 3.5mm and HDMI interfaces
This is something Apple likes to see. In the eyes of designers, store design is an interface whose purpose is to make customers feel comfortable and happy. Just like the iPhone's pursuit of performance and craftsmanship, it is not just to demonstrate financial resources and taste, but also to serve excellent software interaction.
Products are not just about hardware, but also software and services.
If we talk about materials and decoration, they show the underlying hardware of the Apple Store. Then, the store layout, navigation system, and lighting system are the human-computer interaction interface of the Apple Store, while pickup, after-sales, and Today at Apple symbolize its software and services.
The signage and navigation system are the UI of the Apple Store. The newly designed navigation system is more concise and clear, making it easier for customers to find the areas and services they need.
Home screen and wallpaper
The wall design and lighting system constitute the “home screen and wallpaper” of the Apple Store.
The wall design determines the user’s first feeling when entering the store. Apple abandoned the previous wall design of quartz or limestone walls and wrapped the surrounding walls with oak planks and wooden cabinets. This has significantly changed the tone of the entire store, and the coldness of electronic products has been replaced by a sense of warmth.
The Avenue promenade on the left side of the store is also integrated into the wall. Apple referenced the art museum-style layout. The mobile phone cases, AirPods, and even a data cable all have unique shapes. Visitors seem to be appreciating art exhibits instead of ordinary consumer electronics products.
The iPhone's sense of order largely comes from Apple's standardization of the design of third-party applications. All applications listed on the App Store adopt a uniform icon size of 1024×1024 pixels. Apple even sets up App Store review guidelines and human-computer interface guidelines.
This principle is continued on the shelves of Apple Stores. Third-party accessories need to also comply with Apple’s packaging standards. For example, the basic color must be white, use a simpler font design, and certain products require that they can be sold without opening the packaging. Show the appearance of the product.
Lighting is an important means of creating an atmosphere. In the Wenzhou store, Apple abandoned the soft-film ceiling design and instead adopted a new linear baffle ceiling structure, which not only provides lighting but also takes into account acoustic considerations. The lighting is sandwiched between each white baffle to ensure that the product is presented to customers in an absolutely bright way.
The designer balanced natural light and reflected light from the floor, glass, and metal walls, making the entire space feel soft like a softbox. Just like the "original color display" of the iPhone is turned on, customers will feel that the place is integrated with the outdoors, and they will walk in unconsciously.
Interaction and response
The furnishings of this Apple Store also adopt a new design.
The Pickup area is set up on the inner right side. This is a design similar to a traditional Chinese medicine store. The wall-to-wall cabinets are used to store products ordered by customers online.
What is quite ingenious is that the drawer below supports two-way opening. When a user places an order online and chooses to pick up the product in the store, employees will put the product in from the backstage side, and the user will take it out from the counter side after arriving in the store.
This way of shortening the interaction path is like preloading the Apple Watch app. Things are already ready before you open it.
In the early years, inspired by the concierge of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, the Apple team decided to build a service facility that integrated the features of a concierge desk and a bar to undertake after-sales functions. Apple gave it an unusual name – Genius Genius Bar.
Throughout the history of the Apple Store, talent has emerged, but the bar has disappeared.
The new store has restored the physical counter of Genius Bar, and even the atomic structure logo of the year has returned.
The bar provides two tables of different heights to accommodate customers of different heights, different postures, and different physical conditions. It's like the iPhone can adjust the font size.
▲ The frame of the in-store advertising curtain is like the frame of an iPhone screen, and the tables and chairs have rounded chamfers.
Accessibility and universal design
Universal Design is a major design principle of Wenzhou Apple Store. It asks designers to "think about all the different abilities that people have, whether it's cognition, mobility, hearing or vision, and try to use that as a guide for everything."
This is similar to the description in Apple's interaction design document. The popular explanation of universal design is that design should serve everyone.
Wheelchair-friendly access, readily accessible hearing aids, and courses for the visually and hearing-impaired are all examples of this principle.
Accessibility facilities are not just for customers. Two disabled Apple employees can also work in an open environment without barriers.
▲The Apple Watch experience area on the right side of the entrance
From the uniform UI of iOS to the careful layout of the Apple Store, from the iPhone's original color display with adaptive color temperature to the lighting design of the Apple Store, from the online iTunes U educational resources to the offline Today at Apple courses, from the rich iOS From accessibility features, to the comprehensive barrier-free facilities in the store, to various design details of the Apple Store, you can almost trace the origin of Apple products.
space is product
There are 527 Apple Stores around the world, but few people would say that Apple is a chain brand.
Thousands of stores and thousands of faces are the biggest features of the Apple Store. On the contrary, when you walk into the stores of some fast fashion brands, it is difficult to tell the difference between them.
In the fast-moving consumer goods industry, store design often serves the rapid conversion of goods. Square meter efficiency is a basic indicator for measuring store operating efficiency. Merchants measure store operating efficiency by turnover per square meter.
KPIs often cannot guide decision-makers to do things of long-term value. In order to improve square footage efficiency, merchants may try to standardize the design of stores and the location of goods, or even add shelves to place more goods.
The first Apple Store designed by Jobs eliminated the checkout counter and abandoned the shelves. Part of the reason was that Apple only had 4 products at the time, 2 desktops and 2 laptops.
At that time, computer stores were far away from urban areas. People believed that such low-frequency consumption products should not appear in densely populated commercial areas.
Jobs believed that products are not the core, but consumer participation is the key. Even though there were only a handful of SKUs, he still insisted on renting a store larger than GAP in the city center. It covers an area of 600 square meters, leaving a lot of blank space and aisles.
This redundancy continues to this day. In 2017, Apple leased a century-old library in Washington and transformed it into an Apple Store. However, Apple did not interfere with the operation of the library and museum in the building, and even provided additional funds to restore the library.
Integrating commercial operations and protection of ancient buildings is not only a reflection of Apple's financial resources and corporate social responsibility, but also a brand-new concept: the boundaries between public space and commercial space are blurring, and they can be mutually beneficial.
In a sales-led space, customers are usually chased by sales, and the communication between customers and sales is limited to some "quantitative" questions : How are these products configured? What's the price? How should I choose?
In the Apple Store's Today at Apple free course, Apple advocates answering some "qualitative" questions: Have you learned new skills? Are you inspired? Have you gained happiness?
This is a public space where you can work, study, and relax without any expectations from anyone. Even to attend an event, you don’t have to pay for it.
It is said that all employees working in Apple retail stores are encouraged to carry a wallet-sized card with the words "Enrich Life" written on it.
Cook previously said in an interview with the media that one of the least things (you) do in this Apple Store may be to buy things. He even thinks that there should be a "store" for Apple retail stores. Name to better fit the positioning of its community.
The business logic behind this is very simple: if you enrich the lives of customers, customers will make purchases in return, give me papayas, and repay them with Qiongju. When a user becomes a fan, he will even actively promote your services to his friends and family around him.
Unlike consumer electronics, space and architecture serve more people. They communicate implicitly with cities, communities and people all the time.
This is why Apple incorporates the Apple Store into the product design process and spares no expense to create a unique look for each store, so that the store coincides with the city's underlying culture and integrates the store into the community.
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