Chapter 6. Stand Out


HENRY FORD FAMOUSLY PROMISED that his company would paint a car any color “so long as it is black.” For 12 years between 1914 and 1926, his Model T fleet was a monochrome monolith—just one color, just one style. To Ford, color choice was an unimportant personal whim—a stylistic nicety that had nothing to do with producing cars that were cheap to make and easy to drive. “I thought it was up to me as the designer to make the car so completely simple that no one could fail to understand it,” he said, color choice included. Most folks went along: by 1918, the Model T accounted for more than half the cars on the road, a giant swarm of identical black buggies.

Ford was an autocrat (pun intended), and it’s hard to imagine his my-way-or-the-highway philosophy going over well with today’s car consumer. Yet his design dictates aren’t all that different from Apple’s vision of a world awash in identical black iPhones, iPads, and iPods (with the concession of the occasional white iPhone). The difference is the software. Our iPhones might look the same, and the hardware might be standard, but the contents are not. We personalize our iPhones with carefully curated app collections. Just as most drivers think of their choice of car (and its color) as a form of self-expression, so it goes with iPhone users and their apps. We feel a personal attachment to our iPhones that’s almost unseemly for a techno-gadget. The apps we download somehow say as ...

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