Designing Innovation: Something old, something new

Apple’s new iTunes music store feature, iTV, is an attempt to revolutionize the video distribution world in the same way that iTunes disrupted the music industry (and created podcasting). And Apple did it in a beautiful and–as to be expected–customer centric way.

The danger with all radical innovations is that customers’ understandings rarely change as fast as the technologies do: Natura non facit saltum (nature does not make leaps)–and this rule applies for human nature as well.

Apple’s designers have developed (or at least borrowed) a beautiful web interface for presenting consumers, used to buying their DVDs from Walmart, with a look and feel that mimics the familiar experience of roaming the store shelves (pictured above). It’s a beautifully analog display disguising the digitization of the product. As you move the scroll bar, each new video takes center stage, just like it was in your hand.

Yellowlees Douglas and I wrote about this (Robust Design) in describing Edison’s efforts to domesticate the electric light by making it as similar to the incumbent gas lighting as possible. From the street, one positive New York newspaper reviewer write, the electric bulb was indistinguishable from a gas lamp. The same must be done for any drastically new technology–not set it apart from what’s already there but the opposite, make it look as similar as possible.