Apple : Limited by design

The tech giant’s ability to respond online to allegations of supplier misconduct is needlessly constrained by inflexible design.

click to view

The feature

About a week before Christmas, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) aired an investigation into working conditions at Chinese and Indonesian factories that make Apple products. According to journalists at the BBC, they found evidence of routine rule breaches, including policies governing working hours, days off and child labour.

In response, Apple’s senior vice president of operations, Jeff Williams, sent an email to the company’s 5,000 UK staff, which was published in full in the British media including by the BBC. The email said Apple was ‘deeply offended’ by the programme and outlined several steps the company has taken over the years to improve working conditions by developing world suppliers, including tracking the weekly hours of one million workers and boosting compliance with the company’s 60-hour weekly limit. ‘[The BBC] implied that Apple isn’t improving working conditions,’ the email said. ‘Nothing could be further from the truth.’

At the end of the email Mr Williams directs readers to Apple’s supplier responsibility site, which has detailed information on the tech giant’s policies to tackle the issue, but contains no reference to the email or the specific controversy. The site, which is technically part of but has little in common with the rest of it, consists of a small number of long scrolling pages, with links at the top.  

The takeaway

Although we think the corporate website is usually an effective vehicle to respond to media allegations of corporate wrongdoing – and that some other organisations in Apple’s position might have put the email on their corporate websites – we hesitate to criticise companies failing to do so. There may be legitimate legal reasons, and in any case the decision is is usually outside a digital team’s control.

However, even if Apple had wanted to publish the email on its supplier responsibility page, the layout makes it very difficult. The design, with its long scrolling pages, is fundamentally inflexible. There are no obvious ways to add news or other up-to-date elements. It looks good, it has good information, but it has clearly been designed to be built and left. Is this sensible, given the need on any reputation management site to respond as bad news falls from the sky? Putting form ahead of function is rarely a good idea for a corporate website. Here, it makes no sense at all.
First published 07 January, 2015
< Back to Tips