Performance Architecture: Disruptive Design

What stores do you look forward to visiting? What brings you back, over and over again?

One of our personal favorites is Apple. We are long-term, loyal Apple customers and seek opportunities to drop in at their stores to see what is new and exciting. With the much-heralded opening of the re-designed flagship Apple Store on Union Square in downtown San Francisco, we felt compelled to take a field trip to see for ourselves what the new design was all about.

We are drawn to Apple, in part, because it is a company of Performance Architects. Among their many product achievements, they have created a unique store design that serves as scaffolding for the most effective sales and service processes that keep customers, like us, coming back.

Apple is the most profitable store in the U.S. averaging over 1 million visitors per day, globally (IsRetail). For this visit we wanted to explore how the design of Apple’s stores drives their sales and service process to such great success.

About Apple Design

Apple products are revered for their wonderful design. As Steve Jobs said, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” And Tom Watson, former IBM chief, tells us, “Good design is good business.”

Erik Sherman designed Apple stores up until this newest iteration. He says, “[Design should] either achieve a behavior or create a context for behavior that has a purpose.” (Sherman)

In a previous Column, Performance Architecture: The Well-Designed Process, we referenced Dieter Rams’ Ten Principles of Good Design. Five of them apply directly to Apple’s new store design.

Table 1. Universal Design Principles Applied to Business Process

Table 1. Universal Design Principles Applied to Business Process

Apple uses great design in combination with carefully constructed and taught sales and service processes to disrupt the world of retail sales and come out on top.

Field Trip Report

The San Francisco Union Square Apple store is big, bright, welcoming, and gorgeous. It looks out onto Union Square with giant glass doors and all the hustle and bustle there creating an indoor/ outdoor experience for shoppers.

Disruptive Design fig. 2

What We Saw

While some store layout elements are carryovers from previous Apple Store designs, a number are new. Combined, they provide a singular experience for the customer.

The Avenue
On the ground floor are large tables with products arrayed to look at and try out and additional products displayed on the walls. You can explore music, creativity, apps, and photography using the products on display. Staffers called Creative Pros help you discover how to get the most out of Apple products. (Webb)

Various accessories are displayed along a wall in a row of cubicles to suggest the experience of walking from one small store to the next.

You purchase products and accessories in the Avenue. (Billboard)

There are salespeople everywhere, helping customers, demonstrating, answering questions, offering assistance in a friendly, low-pressure way.

Disruptive Design fig. 3

The Forum
Upstairs in the Forum, there is a 35-foot-wide high-definition video screen and stools and balls that can seat up to 100 people. There are game nights and educational sessions about photography, music, and other topics presented by experts in the field. An iMac user class was is in session in the Forum when we visited. (Billboard)

Disruptive Design fig. 4

The Plaza
A few other Apple stores will have this park-like space. With tables, chairs, lights, and 24-hour free wi-fi, the plaza hosts live concerts every few weeks as well as other special events. It has street access that allows passersby to sit for awhile and enjoy the space. (Webb)

Disruptive Design fig. 5

The Genius Grove
Remember the Genius Bar? Apparently Apple thought it was rather like a noisy pub (and it was noisy) so product experts now work under the indoor trees in a larger, more relaxed space with plenty of tables and chairs. (Webb)

Disruptive Design fig. 6

The Boardroom
This is a private room, only available in some stores, that helps Apple attract business customers. Here, the store’s business team can give hands-on advice and training to entrepreneurs, developers, and small and medium businesses. (Tibken). We saw the sign on the door but did not get to look inside.

What We Did Not See

What we did not see says as much about the store’s design as what we did see.
First, product stock is kept out of view. When a customer makes a purchase, the product is brought from an unseen storeroom to the customer.

There are no cash registers or checkout locations in the Apple store, nor are there desks or counters. There are no sales receipts for purchases.

Our Experience

While we did not visit the Apple store with a plan to buy anything, Carol’s elderly iPad had been acting up so she took the opportunity to learn about the newest iPad Pro. The A.P.P.L.E. sales process is obviously very effective because Carol bought a new iPad.

A – Approach customers with a personalized, warm welcome.
P – Probe politely to understand all the customer’s needs.
P – Present a solution for the customer to take home today.

L – Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns.
E – End with sincere thanks and an invitation to return

Here’s how the sale went:

Disruptive Design fig. 7

Another staff person appeared with both the iPad and the iPencil nicely boxed. The salesperson apologized for not having their new shopping bags available, and proceeded to check Carol out on a point-of-sale device, saying he would send the receipt to her email. And that was it.

Disruptive Design fig. 8

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

As part of our Apple store research, Roger visited his local Apple store in Corte Madera, CA, which recently received a design makeover like the San Francisco store’s. The Corte Madera location is smaller, so a slightly different design was installed there.

Many retailers follow Apple’s lead in designing their spaces and creating processes that turn customers into evangelists for their products. A prime example is Tesla, a company we featured in a past Column. A Tesla showroom is located next to the Corte Madera Apple store and Roger stopped in to make some design comparisons.

Like Apple, Tesla uses wall space well. Since all Tesla’s are built-to-order, the customer configures the car by selecting elements from the Design Studio wall that echoes the clean lines and simplicity of product displays at Apple. To the right are Tesla clothing items and In the foreground is an open Tesla chassis.

Disruptive Design fig. 9

As at the Apple store, Tesla showrooms have lots of salespeople ready to help the curious as well as the seriously interested customer. Periodically, Tesla hosts weekend brunches built around a newly released car feature where Tesla owners can come to learn more and get their questions answered.

Questions for You

Reflecting on our experience as related here and adding your own, if you have visited an Apple store recently, what did you see or experience that you can apply at your own workplace?

  • How does the design of your company’s space impact the processes developed to accomplish work?
  • What effect does your workplace’s design have on customers’ ability to engage with your company?
  • How does design in your company look and feel to your customers?
  • How does good design promote your business?
  • How does good design make it easy to do business with your company?
  • If you were going to change the design of your business what would you do?


“Changing a space to promote the experience can have an outsized impact on the business.” (Sherman) This is what Apple has achieved with its latest store re-design.

“By focusing completely on customers’ needs and desires, Apple re-imagined the way stores work – creating an innovative retail model which won over customers worldwide.” (Sherman.)

Here are the key differentiators at the Apple store:

  • Rather than thinking about selling, focus on the customer’s experience and do not pay commission
  • Let people touch the products – once they hold it they are more likely to want to buy it
  • Present benefits that relate to the customer’s needs, so find out what those are and relate everything to them
  • Speed up the boring parts of making a purchase – no cashier, no lines
  • Hire the right people, in this case, Apple evangelists who love the products
  • Follow a clear sales process: A.P.P.L.E.
  • Never underestimate the little things – welcome shoppers with a smile, invite them back after they make a purchase


Addison, Roger, Haig, Carol, Kearny, Lynn. (2009). Performance architecture: The art and science of improving organizations. San Francisco, CA. Pfeiffer.

Addison, Roger, Haig, Carol. (March 2, 2015). Retrieved from

Apple’s Newly Redesigned Store Has Huge Doors, a Genius Grove, and Creative Pros. Wired, May 19, 2016. Retrieved from

Kearny, Lynn, Smith, Phyl. (1994). Creating workplaces where people can think. San Francisco, CA. Pfeiffer.

Khan, Humayun (April 28, 2016). Retrieved from

Rams, Dieter. 10 Principles of Good Design. Retrieved from“good-design”/

Sherman, Erik. Retrieved from

Tibken, Shara. (May 19, 2016). Retrieved from

Webb, Alex. Retrieved from

Roger Addison & Carol Haig

Roger Addison & Carol Haig

Roger Addison has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from Baylor and is Certified in Performance Improvement Technologies (CPT). He is the co-author of Performance Architecture and an internationally respected performance improvement consultant. He is the founder and Chief Performance Officer of Addison Consulting. Previously he was the Senior Director of Human Performance Improvement for the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) where he was responsible for educational programs and implementing performance improvement systems. Carol Haig is a Certified Performance Technologist (CPT) and has more than 30 years of multi-industry experience partnering with organizations to improve their employees' performance. Carol is known for her superior skills in project management, analysis and problem/opportunity identification, and instructional design and facilitation. She has consulted with executives and line managers, established and managed training departments, trained trainers, written for professional publications and mentored performance consultants. She is co-author of Performance Architecture.

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