A recent article from my friends at Frog Design suggested that the reason people perceive the ipod as "clean" is because it reminds them of the bathroom. The idea is novel but I don't think it's quite right. In fact many bathrooms I've seen have very little association with "clean." I believe the reason people are attracted to the design of the iPod is it's 'user experience design.' Let me explain.
Some people talk about user interface design, but interface design is only what happens on the screen, it doesn't encompass the complete experience. To truly create a gem you have to think about the entire user experience.
- The ipod is the only music player that I know that has a totally integrated user experience from the hardware to the software. Most other players piggy back on Windows Media Player. Although many of the same features are in both the seamless integration is not found in the Windows solution.
- The ipod has a minimalist design not found elsewhere. This is true both in software experience and in hardware experience. From the software the menus are always task centric and linear, you never have to worry that you missed something. The hardware has less buttons then a typical alarm clock. I haven't seen another player do simplicity both in player UI and in hardware.
- The ipod feels solid. Other manufacturers cut costs and make their devices from flimsy plastics. These devices often have a different tactile feel in the hand. The iPod does not feel cheap.
- The user experience starts before you open the box and ends after you've turned it off. Apple did a great job branding this device and marketing it. The packaging team did a great job creating a novel box for the device. The online team created a seemless online shopping and music experience to compliment the hardware.
My Kitchen sink may resemble my bathroom but my kitchen sink doesn't have the same appeal as the ipod. I think a better comparison would be a white sheet of paper with a circle drawn on it. The user experience is that circle, and it doesn't get any simpler then that.