The Creative World of MacCase Design
MacCase is a unique company. Not only was it not founded by someone who didn't go to business school but something far worse. It was founded by someone who went to art school!
Like other opposites such as oil and vinegar or honesty and politics, art and commence can create a combustible mix. Fortunately for MacCase, it's founder was someone extremely adapt at navigating the troubled waters that mixing art and commerce can create.
The MacCase founder was a highly successful transportation designer before he created the Apple specific case market. Designing multi-award winning cars for Chrysler and aircraft interiors for both Gulfstream and Boeing, MacCase founder Michael Santoro knew how to mix art and commerce with spectacular results.
For a closer look at his portfolio, you can check out Michael Santoro Design.
Mac Case Premium Leather
While we have many interviews with Mr. Santoro about specific MacCase products, we've never an interview about "MacCase Design".
JKD- You had a lot of success as a designer before MacCase. What was it like making the transition from designer to business founder and business owner?
MS: Scary and exciting. You know you're getting too comfortable when your life doesn't have moments that are scary and exciting at the same time. If you're doing something right, you're having a big scary and exciting moment every few years.
The key is to make sure those are positive moments. Try to keep the negative ones at bay. That is not always easy though.
JKD: You've been leading MacCase since the beginning. You must have some happy moments that offset the tough ones. Can you tell us about a few?
MS: Since it's launch in 2007, our Premium Leather Collection has become the standard by which all other Apple specific cases are judged. We set the bar extremely high and Apple users who are looking for the best have found us and supported our efforts ever since.
I received an interesting response was from a customer in the UK who had purchased a $650 folio type case made from ostrich skin. He also purchased one of our leather iPad cases and upon receiving both and having spent some time putting each through it's paces, set the wildly expensive, wildly exotic ostrich case back.
"Yours was better", he told me. This is exactly the type of response we hope to evoke in our customers. "I can't wait to see what kind of leather iPad Pro cases you guys come up with next ", he also added.
One of our newest models, our Premium Leather iPad Pro 12.9 3rd Generation Keyboard Cover is also making lots of new friends. It's transforms the dull, depressing exterior of Apple pragmatic keyboard folio into a luxurious, professional user experience.
That is the type of feedback you work for as both a designer and as an owner. From a design standpoint, it's the sum of a very long equation.
The Mac Case Design Equation
JKD: How so?
MS: When you start out in a new design program, your looking to achieve certain goals. There is a brief that is created that the new design needs to meet. But unlike say, a painting, a product like a MacBook Pro case or an iPad folio are going to be used both other people.
With a painting, I only have to make myself happy. I either love it or I'm fixing it. With product design, you are tying to fit your idea, your vision for this product into the lives of thousands of strangers. They are going to use this thing that you've birthed into the world in ways you never imagined.
You do the best you can to solve all the challenges that the product needs to meet. But in the end, you just never know. It's a bit of science, a whole bunch of art and a lot of faith. Kind of like good rock and roll.
JKD: Have you had any designs for MacCase products that were, less than successful?
MS: Do you mean, that bombed? (Laughing)
Overall, looking back on 20+ years of doing this, I have to say the track record is very good for saying out of the failure bin has been extremely good. Even slow sellers like our Nylon Binder from back in the early 2000s, were loved by the people that bought them. The product found it's audience.
Was that audience as large as the one that purchased our sleeves? No, not even close. But again, to me, the sales numbers are only part of the story. Sometimes it's the passion of the audience, not the number of people who are in the room, that matter most to the band. Product design can be the same.
For many years people asked us for a way to attach our Flight Jacket model to a roller bag versus wearing over your shoulder or as a backpack. This was one of the more requested accessories ever.
When we did the 4 new designs for the iPad Pro which included the briefcase, Flight Jacket, sleeve and folios, I designed an attacher that would allow any of our Flight Jackets to be attached to a roller like people wanted.
We put everything on pre-order. We got zero orders for the attacher. Not a single one. Maybe it was the way the product was shown, I don't really know. It just didn't register. But in the end, it didn't really bomb. It never made it to prime time.
Overall, I have to say, we have not had any models that just died on the vine.
JKD- Your current Premium Leather designs have been in production, pretty much unchanged, for over 10 years. This is longer than any computer they were ever designed to carry. Yet they continue to sell well. Why do you think that is?
MS: This is a testament to the timelessness of the proportions, execution of the hand assembly and materials used to create each peice. In an industry that changes the designs of bags like the fashion industry changes clothes, to have designs continue to sell well after being on the market for over 10 years is unprecedented. It is something I am very proud of.
It's not something you plan on. I do the best work I can on each and every program. I am always looking to take things to the next level. I feel this was done with the current generation of iPad Pro Folios.
Our Magnetic Accessory System is groundbreaking. After 10 years of countless companies making and selling millions of iPad cases all over the world, I was able to pull this very functional, very stylish solution out of the air and make it real.
We have had zero issues with the new folios designs. Not a single return for lack of quality, fit, assembly, or function. Nothing. In a product as complex and difficult to make as our Folios are, this says a lot about the design.
Follow No Trend
JKD: MacCase designs seem to evolve. Is this market driven or does this reflect your personal design philosophy?
MS: It reflects my personal philosophy. Creating designs that last, that endure, that is my lane. That's what I'm good at. That's why I loved designing the 1996-2005 Jeep Wrangler. It was a good marriage between my aesthetics, desires of the customer and the legacy of the brand. It's an American icon.
For MacCase, it depends on the program. A fresh design vocabulary can be developed based around the needs of the user and provide world class protection and functionality.
This was done for our overnight bag and duffle bag. They take some elements from what I have done in the past for MacBook Pros and iPads, but changed them up enough to set them apart from the rest of the line. This is important because they are not computer bags. They are general use pieces.
I wanted them to posses a timeless design aesthetic, but at the same time set themeless apart from the computer pieces in the line.
JKD: How was this achieved?
MS: Mostly through the use of materials, especially in the black models. We are using a very heavy textured leather on the black models and contrasting that against a smooth, near gloss finish. This has never been done on our laptop or tablet cases.
I carried over the white stitching so that is the touchstone back to MacCase, but everything else is new, done in a timeless way.
Mac Case Designs on the Future
JKD: You've always got one eye on the future. Are there any designs you can talk about that are on the horizon?
MS: Designers use the term "form factor" when describing a particular style of case like a sleeve, briefcase, messenger bag, etc. How many form factors does MacCase need?
This is a question that everyone is asking and slowly the answer is emerging. Too many form factors and you can confuse customers and waste resources.Too few and you invite customers to leave and find the solution they are looking for elsewhere.
MacCase adheres to the adage that you can't be all things to all people. Typically products that try to do this are pretty bland because in their effort to obtain mass appeal they try not to offend anyone. And while we don't set out to offend anyone, we try really hard not to be bland!
There are several aspects to the business that need to be addressed before we move into any new form factors. There are a couple of new designs I am interested in exploring. One in particular that we have never done before. It should be fun to do, but very expensive. We'll see how it works out.
JKD: OK we'll leave it there then. Thank you.
MS: Thank you, Jody.