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Eric Feigenbaum

What Makes Apple Stores So Appealing?

The stores are known for one attribute above all else – and it’s also the defining aesthetic of effective store design




WHY DO WE LOVE Apple as much as we do? Sure, we love the whizzy technology, but mostly we love the Cupertino, Calif.-based company because everything they offer is beautifully designed: It’s sleek, it’s sexy and it’s cool.

Like so many influencers, innovators and visionaries, Steve Jobs drew inspiration from his earliest childhood memories. Growing up in a mid-century, working-class neighborhood of San Francisco, Jobs took notice of the modern simplicity of the fast-track homes being built for those fleeing the challenges and hardships of the hardscrabble inner cities during the great post-war rush to suburbia.

Back then, Jobs recognized the beautiful and practical simplicity of the homes being built in the mushrooming suburbs; they were neat, efficient and affordable. It’s not merely happenstance or coincidence that this aesthetic was translated to the early Macs, iPods and iPhones. Mid-century architect Mies van der Rohe told us that, “Less is more.” This construct, along with the influences of his early environment, helped Jobs define the Apple aesthetic, a vision that set the tech giant apart from all of the other technology companies.

Raymond Mastrobuoni was the window director at Cartier’s for 40 years, beginning his career shortly before Apple turned the world on its edge. Much like Jobs, Mastrobuoni approached life with his eyes wide open. He always believed that wherever you go, and whatever you see, is a learning experience. “One should be like a sponge and soak it all in. When you travel, you learn, you photograph, and you buy things from the people of the culture you are visiting,” he once said.

When Ray visited Japan for the first time in 1968, he was fascinated by origami, floral arrangement, brush painting and the beautiful simplicity of design. While at a monastery near Kyoto, Ray admired the many brush paintings he saw there. Ever curious, he wanted to learn more and was struck by the simplicity of the calligraphy and the fluidity in which the paint was applied.

What Ray learned in the ensuing days was the power and beauty of simplicity. In watching the master, he marveled as the concept of a bird was communicated in one, maybe two simple strokes. A bird is a complex entity, it has wings and feathers, beaks and claws. It was with a simple, spontaneous line, that the master was able to capture the essence and evocative emotion of a bird. “You must learn how to simplify,” he told Ray. “You must use the least amount of strokes to say what you want to say.”


Ray learned to take his brush and dip one corner of its bristles in one color, the other corner in another color, and the top in a third color. He then applied the pigments to paper with a twist of the wrist, pulling the brush from thick to thin. With two more strokes, he was able to communicate the idea of a bird and the idea of fish. The most important lesson he learned through this experience was to study the object that he was going to draw or paint. “You can’t draw anything that you don’t know. Study and feel the object. Once you know what you have, then, and only then, can you draw it. You must know the object, animate or inanimate, and everything about it. Then when you know and understand the object, and you know what you want to say, break it down to its simplest terms. Communicate the essence of the object in the least amount of strokes.”

The concept of simplicity has been championed by many of the great thinkers and visionaries in the art and design community, including Jobs and Mastrobuoni.

Raymond Loewy, the world-renowned industrial designer, told us, “Simplicity is the deciding factor in the aesthetic equation.

Similarly, Constantin Brancusi penned the words that every designer should hold near and dear to their heart, “Simplicity is complexity resolved.”

Much like Mastrobuoni’s early attempts at brush painting, Brancusi’s iconic sculpture, Bird in Space, on permanent exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, communicates the concept of a bird with a simple gesture – a single mellifluous line capturing the contours and spirit of our feathered friends. In depicting the nuances of a bird, Brancusi made an enduring statement and emotional connection through the art of simplification.

Much like a bird, it can be argued that a store is also a complex entity, with styles, sizes, silhouettes, and myriad sources of information and stimulation. And while our world grows increasingly complex, particularly in the wake of the pandemic, it’s imperative that designers streamline the retail process.


Today’s customers are searching for safety and convenience in an ever-chaotic world. Given the conditions of the day, and the complexities of retail, designers should consider the perspectives of Steve Jobs and Raymond Mastrobuoni. The successful retail designer must strive to simplify our lives and create order out of chaos.





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