”Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like,” says Steve Jobs, Apple’s C.E.O. ”People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs

This is a quote Steve gave to the New York Times during the launch of the first iPod. More than 20 years later, the truth of that statement continues to resonate through consumer product design.

Visual ideas like minimalism, clean lines, textures or gradients, fonts, colors, etc. can all be finessed to make something look amazing. But just because it looks great, doesn’t mean it’s of any actual use to your customers.

Some of you intrepid, young readers might not realize that when Apple released the first iPod model, we were living in a world of overly-complicated MP3 players and music devices. Many were uninspired black or silver boxes with tiny displays and complicated button configurations. They had poor storage and even poorer battery-life and created more friction for users to do something very basic: listen to music.

Most of these design decisions were carry-over from Walkmans and home stereo systems – companies like SONY and Diamond Multimedia took what they had done before and simply made it smaller. None of the companies in this space stopped to ask if any of these devices actually worked.

Apple was the first brand to look at the actual user experience (listening to music) and built a product from the ground up that made that experience as easy and as enjoyable as possible. They added a bigger display, fewer buttons, more storage and a novel color (all white) to help the device stand out from all the other home gadgets and clutter.

The most innovative feature of that first iPod was the click wheel. For the first time users could intuitively scroll through their music collection and select an album or song by pressing a single button in the middle. The hierarchy of that big circle on the iPod was a constant visual cue that, for the first time on an MP3 player, YOU were in control of both the device and the user experience.

It’s easy to look at the innovative design choices on the iPod and assume Apple made those decisions because they look good. They absolutely do – it’s a striking piece of technology. But those features wouldn’t exist if they didn’t allow for listening to music to be as easy and fun.

Think about this in relation to the last time you were very happy with (or incredibly annoyed by) a tool, or technology, or a website, or a process. Have you ever driven a car that just felt like it was made for you? Did you recently purchase a piece of cooking gear for your kitchen that makes you stressed to even think about using? It’s likely your expectations in these cases stem from how both form AND function were considered in a product’s design.