is the design of kevin kennedy

The Details

Sometimes a simple question can help shift what you thought was understood.

“How to I backup my iPhone?”

“Well, you could either plug the USB cord into a computer and backup locally, or enable iCloud backups.”

“Okay, but where is the iCloud?”


I was stumped.

I knew she didn’t want to know that physically, her data was likely being kept in a datacenter somewhere in North Carolina. What she wanted to know was, where is the interface for it. For years, services have typically existed as discrete places to visit, log in, and interact with. Email, calendars, bookmarks, and reminders were all connected to separate websites and companies who each maintained their own interfaces and accounts.

The iCloud service does indeed have a website, but it is not “where” iCloud is. The service itself is, by design, meant to be completely invisible to the user. How do I answer that question then? Where is the iCloud? Why is a service that has so drastically improved the experience of owning an iPhone so hard to explain? How do you show something not meant to be seen?

The answer is you don’t. Show what it can do, not what it is.

By explaining what a service or product does, rather than what it is, we can immediately get to a user’s reasoning for caring at all. I explained that iCloud was what allowed the contacts on the computer to be the same as they are on the phone. It also enables photo streams, bookmarks, and todos to show up on every device. The phone can also back itself up to iCloud, so that it can be restored completely with only an internet connection.

Instead of getting into the details about how storage space works and how individual applications can use iCloud, I got right down to some real situations that she would understand.

In our field, instead of pitching a new website with social media integration, we should be saying, “These tools will help you engage with your audience.”

Instead of talking about how many words and photographs we plan to produce, say, “Original content helps you tell your story to current and new visitors.”

The details will always be important to some audiences, but not to all. When describing things, especially those that are technical in nature, sometimes we need to consider the application over the implementation.

We need to sell users on the adventure, not the brand of backpack we plan on bringing.