I've seen many complaint articles and negative Twitter arrows about today's design and operation of Apple Stores over the past few months. Part of this was probably aroused after Angela Ahrendts left the company. She had spent a lot of time on Apple, giving Apple Retail a new makeover, rid of some iconic features like the Genius Bar in favor of a more open and shared space layout.
There have been recent comments since the departure of Jony Ive from the company a few weeks ago. While Ahrendts was the driver behind the changes in Apple Stores, Ive was a leading designer. As with Apple Park, his commitment to open space and environments is about as long as possible. Everything in extreme as it tends to be polarizing, so most will either love it or hate it.
Although I'm not as critical to Apple Stores as most, I recognize that the majority of these complaints have some validity. The extreme openness leads to a lot of disorganization when combined with the crowds that these stores tend to draw. People visit Apple Stores for all kinds of reasons: shopping, repairing, browsing and just playing around. Then you also have classes that happen in the shop most days, especially on weekends. Add to device startup and you have even more chaos.
So I get it. Removing the Genius Bar has left people seeking repairs and helping walk around the store, waiting to be called. There are still long lines at the door that people have to "check in" for various things. It can be a mess on just one regular summer afternoon.
I agree that Apple has pushed open concept design a bit too far. It leads to more frustration and chaos than is necessary. However, I do not agree that Apple has completely destroyed its retail experience. As a prolonged patron of Apple Stores, I think the drama level of some of the complaint articles is quite ridiculous. Personally, I don't think the company is far from meeting the right mix of open and organization. In my opinion, I add a little more structure back to his design would turn the right mix into what they are now looking at doing with their stores.
I'm writing about this because I'm currently sitting on a somewhat unpleasant wooden box while my daughter is taking a Procreate drawing class at our local Apple Store.
Our Memphis store is not large, but it is open, as most small and medium-sized stores are these days. We are at the back of the store and the teacher has control over the big screen to demonstrate various drawing techniques and properties at Procreate.
When we came here, my daughter and another person were the only two afterwards. I am no artist, so I sit here and take everything in and write as she works with her wooden house sketches. As I observe, I can see how the openness of the store contributes to the educational focus Apple has placed on them. While the class started with just two people, several others came up and came in after they had seen what happened. Apple always lends out iPads for drawing and coding so everyone can participate, even if they don't own a device. The reason why people joined is because the class is out in the open and they saw it in time. The openness of the class environment encourages participation.
I also noticed many people who were in the store for appointments to either pick up a new unit or to get an overview of it. Some would call them, and they would go to a table to get a one-on-one session covering hardware of choice. Again, the open concept works well here. I never use these services, so it's easy to forget that they exist. As with people who went in to a class they didn't come to because they happened to see it happen, people are being called for one-on-one sessions with Apple devices, an encouragement to use such services.
So, even though the Apple Store's current setup is a bit annoying when you come up to pick up a device or take care of repair, remember that the current design serves the other purposes of Apple Retail very well. The other services, such as free classes, services for teachers, and on-one agreements are things that most other technical companies are not concerned about. It is tremendous value, both for Apple and consumers, in these personal services.
Although I agree that a little more structure and organization will benefit everyday Apple Store customers, I also appreciate the benefits of the open concept while looking at my daughter and others having fun thoughtful (and free) instruction on how to be even more creative with their devices. I can't help but think back to Steve Jobs's statement on Apple who lives at the intersection of technology and liberal art at the release of the iPad 2 not long before he passed.
The current layout of the Apple Store is specifically aimed at that end, and my experience today was a good reminder that there is something to say for it.