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Visual design: New iPhone, same old teasing


Written by Matt Smith

How many brands can use the same tactics, year after year, to drive news headlines, social media buzz and a frenzy of speculation? Not many. But Apple isn’t your average tech company, is it? And part of the visual design language its established to achieve this is simple, smart and unknown to most of its customers.

Press invites

You may or may not be aware, but each year, roughly 10 days before the event itself, Apple sends out an invitation to the media to attend its headquarters in Cupertino, California, for what inevitably turns out to be the launch of the latest iPhone.

This year’s invites went out on 29 August, and strongly hinted the rumour about the camera is going to be confirmed come the event on 10 September.

More than just a diary date

The new iPhone launch has become a huge moment in the tech calendar. For the thousands of media keen to break the story to confirm or de-bunk the countless rumours about what Apple is planning (and when), the invite is a critical point in the news cycle.

That’s because the annual invite isn’t just a confirmation of the date.

Each year the invites for iPhone media launches (and other products in its line-up besides) feature a custom graphic design.

The design always hints at some detail of the product to come.

Whether it’s a change in shape, introducing different colour varieties or a new camera, the image is a big old tease and it works. It fuels headlines, it drives conversations and it starts to get the enthusiasts engaged. And there are a lot of them!

An Apple a day…

There are lots of pieces out there speculating about the next iPhone already, so I’m not going to add to that pile in this piece.

What I want to call out is some of the design learnings all businesses can take from the Apple approach to this specific activity.

1. Consistency drives expectation

The Apple invite lands at the same time of year, every year. That predictability builds anticipation to the point it would be more surprising if Apple decided to dispense with it. After all, if it ain’t broke…

Think about how you can structure the release of information to build excitement amongst your target audience. What line up of assets can you create to maximise its impact?

If you have something big to talk about, how can you tease it? If you’re looking at new mail shots, how do you set them apart? Would an offline solution, like a mailshot – work more effectively for your audience than an online approach? You won’t know unless you really understand where your audience is, but don’t discount it by default.

Whichever channel you use, make sure the look and feel of the campaign is consistent throughout, so you own the look and feel at all of the key touchpoints.

Investing time in thinking about the overall story you’re trying to tell and the role of design within that can really pay off.

2. Play the game

Don’t just view design as a functional element to comms. It can have a much greater impact when it’s done well.

As the adage goes, a picture says a thousand words. In the case of Apple it’s probably worth millions.

The sleek invite designs communicate what Apple is pushing as the wow feature of (often) incredibly complex tech, but it’s reduced to simple and sophisticated visuals.

Keep your assets simple but do have some fun with it. There’s nothing to stop you from building a bit of a game into the mix. It’s bound to make you more memorable.

3. Know your audience

Apple knows exactly what it’s doing with the release of the media invites. Unlike other aspects of its operations, it’s not shrouded in mystery and secrecy but it’s absolutely playing up to it.

But critically, it also knows what it needs the invitation to achieve.

The Apple team knows how much journalists want to write about the company. They know how much interest there is in their work and products and they are providing exactly what they need to do their job without giving anything away.

So make sure when you’re absolutely clear on what your audience needs and what action you want to drive through your own communications design projects and you will bolster your return.

4. Live up to the expectation

Arguably, this is where Apple has historically led the pack. The way it presents its products through visual design is matched by the customer experience. Apple has done this for years, so much so that the devoted fans of the brand are even willing to forgive, nay, defend issues that crop up once the devices land in customers’ hands.

But does your brand have that luxury? Probably not.

The press invite is the first time Apple officially breaks cover for it’s upcoming launches, but it’s part of a carefully calculated 360 degree experience of the launch. Everything adds up. It just works.

Make sure the visual design is supported by the best user journey. Create the bespoke landing pages on your website that tell people what they need to know when you’re ready to reveal it. Don’t leave the user experience to chance.

Not every product is going to drive wonderlust, but visual design can play a key role in pitching it nonetheless. Maybe it’s less about desire and more about humour, for example? Get to grips with what makes the target audience tick and use that as the foundation for your approach.