Jony Ives, Apple Watch, and the need for system thinking in CXM

On the occasion of Jony Ives\’ departure from Apple, I revive my 2015 piece on the lessons customer experience management (CXM) teams can learn from the launch of the Apple Watch — arguably the last major product/experience Ives directed at Apple. A version of this post first appeared on

Experience as a system

In a piece on his Asymco blog, Horace Dediu tackled the question of how to predict what product category Apple might enter next. I think the piece exposes some essential but overlooked elements of customer experience management. It ought to be required reading for anyone involved with CXM.

Dediu proceeds by parsing the text of an Apple advertisement, which reads in part:

This is it. This is what matters.

The experience of a product. How it will make someone feel.

He comments:

To me this means that they will build things which require an integrated approach. As Apple is “the last integrated company standing” it means they will work on problems where the system is not good enough. This means that they will not work on problems where an individual modular component is not good enough. By system I mean, in the largest sense: production, design, distribution, sales, support and services must work in a seamless way. Systems analysis implies a broad understanding of the causes of insufficient performance along the dimensions of “experience.” The experiences are what differentiate the products (and lead to high margins) and these experiences are possible only through the control of interdependent modules.

In a later podcast, Dediu illustrated how this applies in the case of the Apple Watch.

Think of it this way. When they designed the Watch, they designed how to sell it.  They designed how to display it. They designed how to charge it (also while it is in the store). They designed how to light it. They designed the [display] table itself and all of the wood and the grain. They designed how to teach the people to sell it.  . . . They designed how to help people try it on.

This is precisely the integrated approach Dediu spoke of in the blog post. He states, “System analysis implies a broad understanding of the causes of insufficient performance along the dimensions of ‘experience.’”

CXM professionals should reverse this sentence: Great customer experience implies a broad understanding (i.e., analysis) of the causes of insufficient performance along the dimensions of (the entire) system.

This is why successful CXM means more than digitally supercharged marketing.

This is why the 7th Era of Marketing — to borrow the title of a book by my colleague Robert Rose and Carla Johnson — will see marketers emerge from their lead-generation-and-branding cocoon in order to lead the necessary organizational transformations. (Or else pass into irrelevance.)  

This is why Capital One bank acquired the design agency Adaptive Path. Not in order to save money or reduce friction by “in-sourcing a supplier.” But rather in order to leap ahead of the competition by fully embracing the central, indispensable role of design and design thinking.

The benefit of service design for CXM

This is why I obstinately hold on to the term “service design,” while most favor “experience design.” (The difference was succinctly explained by Kerry Bodine in this blog post.) Experience design has the advantage of stating that experiences have to be carefully designed, which also entails user research, iterative testing, and much else. But service design goes further to designate the integrated, interrelated services — technologies, information repositories, workflows, teams, skills, strategies, commitments, and mundane practices — that have to be in place and functioning smoothly for the experience to perform as intended.

And this is why technology is not the answer. Certainly, it’s crucial to run a thorough vendor selection process. But at the end of the day, the “best fit” software package will get you practically nowhere unless it has not only been implemented but more importantly integrated into the system that enables and supports the desired experiences.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that every company has to be like Apple. (In fact, Dediu argues convincingly that, in effect, no other company can possibly be like Apple.)  Nor does it mean that you’re necessarily better off with an “integrated” suite of software tools rather than individual components. From the perspective of CXM, the integration of the system that Dediu invokes is achieved by strategy and design — where strategy is the vision and design is the glue.

“Integration of the system” sounds too much like “systems integration” — when in fact it is entirely different, if not almost the opposite. While less felicitous, it might be better to speak of the interoperability or, in Dediu’s terms, the interdependence of the system. In any case, look for system-level design and designers — in-house or via an agency partner — to play a larger role in successful CXM — and contact us to discuss your own CX initiatives.

Do you need help on this topic

Schedule a free consult to discuss your needs.

Subscribe To Our Weekly Newsletter

Scroll to Top