Skip to Content

Is Apple Watch a design flop?

Tristan Walker, CEO, Walker & Company BrandsTristan Walker, CEO, Walker & Company Brands
Tristan Walker, CEO, Walker & Company Brands

In an age when every day dumps a new whizbang product—a me-too smartphone, watch, tablet, fitness tracker, sound system, app—on consumers’ laps, there is something critical, something deeply human, being lost: design. Such was the provocative conclusion of an all-star panel of designers gathered at Fortune‘s Brainstorm Tech this afternoon.

One of the key challenges, said one speaker after another, is that product-makers misunderstand what design is.

The biggest misconception? “The belief that it’s about making things pretty,” said Margaret Gould Stewart, Facebook’s director of product design.

John Maeda, a former president of the Rhode Island School of Design who is now a design partner at venerable venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, offered another candidate: “The mistaken belief that we need design for everything.”

“It’s ‘design thinking,’ countered Gadi Amit, principal designer at the San Francisco-based NewDealDesign. “The mistake is attributing to design a cerebral quality that is not necessarily there and shouldn’t be the focal point.” (It should be noted—and wasn’t the first time this article was posted—that Amit designed the original Fitbit device, a competitor to the Apple Watch. Many thanks to The Macalope at Macworld for pointing out this oversight.)

Where there was more accord, surprisingly, was in the group’s assessment that the prodigiously hyped Apple Watch (AAPL) is a manifestation of at least some of these misconceptions.

“I’m actually highly disappointed by the Apple Watch,” said Amit. “To some degree, Apple missed an opportunity to redefine why the tiny screen is on our wrist at all. I’m an Apple admirer and hoped for an ‘iPhone moment.’ This wasn’t it.”

“From a marginal perspective, I don’t think it simplifies my life,” said Tristan Walker, CEO of Walker & Company Brands.

In a broader sense, “the idea of the watch is anachronistic,” offered Stewart. “It’s transitional. In a few years we’re going to look at different devices.”

Among the group, Maeda was the kindest—though his was hardly a ringing endorsement: “”It was a good try. Let’s see what comes next.”

Author’s Note: The original version of this story did not mention the potential conflict of interest of one of the Apple Watch’s critics. It should have—and does now.