Found this nice interview with Jonathan Ive the current senior VP of industrial design at Apple. I like this interview for what it tell us about Apple and Jonathan’s amazing design methodology. It gives us a glimpse into his insights to design and shows us how he thinks and focuses on products. I think also he expresses some of the thinking that is consistent across good businesses that want to innovate and lead creative teams. Some the key take away’s are emphasized below, with my own commentary inline.

On deciding to join Apple.

“I remember being astounded at just how much better it(the Mac) was than anything else I had tried to use. I was struck by the care taken with the whole user experience. I had a sense of connection via the object with the designers. I started to learn more about the company, how it had been founded, its values and its structure. The more I learnt about this cheeky almost rebellious company the more it appealed to me, as it unapologetically pointed to an alternative in a complacent and creatively bankrupt industry. Apple stood for something and had a reason for being that wasn’t just about making money.”

Jonathan obviously has a love for good simple design, and has an affiliation with being with rebellious and innovative people. He seems to actively seeks out the work and ideas of others that have strong principles and respect for design. I think the influences of great designers like Dieter Rams are evident in his work. What I like, is his original drive was for his passion about what he did, not the money, that came later.

Some frustration with Apple early on.

“One of my reasons for joining Apple had been a frustration associated with consulting. Working externally made it difficult to have a profound impact on product plans and to truly innovate. By the time you had acccepted a commission so many of the critical decisions had already been made. Increasingly I had also come to believe that to do something fundamentally new requires dramatic change from many parts of an organisation.”

He likes to have guiding influence over the decisions of product development, he comes across as someone that wants to have the power to make change from a fundamental level of design and strategy all the way to final build and production. This I would class as a serious designer that sees all details as important. I agree that good design requires the designer to be involved at all stages of the process from discovery, design through to production and distribution. Design touches everything, so should the designer.

Before Steve returned.

“It seemed to have lost what had once been a very clear sense of identity and purpose. Apple had started trying to compete to an agenda set by an industry that had never shared its goals. While as a designer I was certainly closer to where the desicions were being made, but I was only marginally more effective or influential than I had been as a consultant. This only changed when Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple) returned to the company. By re-establishing the core values he had established at the beginning, Apple again pursued a direction which was clear and different from any other companies. Design and innovation formed an important part of this new direction.”

Purpose is one of those important principles that Daniel Pink, outlines in his book “Drive” all about motivations at work. It is important for designers to have not only purpose in what they produce but also to have the ability to influence the design choices. Not everyone understands what good design means, sometimes saving money is not the right choice. Interesting to read that it took Steve Jobs return to realign the original principles, of great design and innovation.

The advantages of working for one company

“It is pretty humbling when so much of your effectiveness is defined by context. Not only is it critical that the leadership of a company clearly understands its products and the role of design, but that the development, marketing and sales teams are also equally committed to the same goals. More than ever I am aware that what we have achieved with design is massively reliant on the commitment of lots of different teams to solve the same problems and on their sharing the same goals. I like being part of something that is bigger than design. There is a loyalty that I have for Apple and a belief that this company has an impact beyond design which feels important. I also have a sense of being accountable as we really live, sometimes pretty painfully with the consequences of what we do.”

Pointing out the value of having a dedicated team at one organization is key to some of Apple’s success. The ability to align teams and people to common goals is easier if they all work together towards a common target with accountability. I think the ability and success of Apple making their brand loyality so strong has gone along way to making this work. People who work at Apple are very dedicated and loyal to the brand and that messaging is very clear, coming directly from the top of the organization. I am sure there are some of the disadvantages as well of expert and group think, and I do wonder if Apple encourages outside influence for new product design? They are of course renowned for their secrecy and lack of consumer input to design development.

The defining qualities of Apple

“In the 1970s, Apple talked about being at the intersection of technology and the arts. I think that the product qualities are really consequent to the bigger goals that were established when the company was founded. The defining qualities are about use: ease and simplicity. Caring beyond the functional imperative, we also acknowledge that products have a significance way beyond traditional views of function.”

Apple created a very clear and strong brand, with a well defined goal. This made the choices and aligning of people to these ideals easier when they were stated so clearly from the top down. This is definitely a very important step in any brand development.

Apple Product Design Space

“We have assembled a heavenly design team. By keeping the core team small and investing significantly in tools and process we can work with a level of collaboration that seems particularly rare. Our physical environment reflects and enables that collaborative approach. The large open studio and massive sound system support a number of communal design areas. We have little exclusively personal space. In fact, the memory of how we work will endure beyond the products of our work.”

Creative teams work well in open spaces and the ability to collaborate and share ideas easily is valuable to a company that tries to innovate as hard as Apple does. This is a common theme you see at creative agencies and designers like Eames made sure their spaces were open to idea generation.

Obsessive details

Perhaps the decisive factor is fanatical care beyond the obvious stuff: the obsessive attention to details that are often overlooked, like cables and power adaptors. Take the iMac, our attempts to make it less exclusive and more accessible occurred at a number of different levels. A detail example is the handle. While its primary function is obviously associated with making the product easy to move, a compelling part of its function is the immediate connection it makes with the user by unambiguously referencing the hand. That reference represents, at some level, an understanding beyond the iMac’s core function. Seeing an object with a handle, you instantly understand aspects of its physical nature – I can touch it, move it, it’s not too precious.

With the Power Mac G4 Cube, we created a techno-core suspended in a single piece of plastic. You don’t often get to design something out of one piece of plastic. This was about simplifying – removing clutter, not just visual but audio clutter. That’s why the core is suspended in air. The air enters the bottom face and without a fan (therefore very quietly) travels through the internal heat sink. Movement within the cube is all vertical – the air, the circuit boards and even the CD eject vertically. The core is easily removed for access to internal stuff.

Details can separate the good from the great designs. Apple is as much about great design as it is about getting to those details that make a difference. That is what contributes to their difference between same technology and outstanding design as their competitors.

Interest in the latest technology advances

“Materials, processes, product architecture and construction are huge drivers in design. Polymer advances mean that we can now create composites to meet very specific functional goals and requirements. From a processing point of view we can now do things with plastic that we were previously told were impossible. Twin shooting materials – moulding different plastics together or co-moulding plastic to metal gives us a range of functional and formal opportunites that really didn’t exist before. The iPod is made from twin-shot plastic with no fasteners and no battery doors enabling us to create a design which was dense completely sealed. Metal forming and, in particular, new methods of joining metals with advanced adhesives and laser welding is another exciting area at right now.”

It is clear that they consider all the latest developments in technology and materials science. This is an obvious approach to looking for those differentiating factors. The task of marketing and standing out from the competition is always made easier when you define something new and push the current status quo. This has been a theme that has run with Apple design since it’s first product. They never wanted to be the same at any level.

Catalyst for design

New products that replace multiple products with substantial histories is obviously exciting for us. I think another catalyst is the tenacity and high expectations of consumers. With the iPod, the MP3 phenomenon gave us an opportunity to develop an entirely new product and one which could carry 4,000 songs. The big wrestle was to trying to develop something that was new, that felt new and that had a meaning relevant to what it was.

Being different and making unique propositions has helped Apple endlessly stand out from the other products that do the same thing. Making the art of design a primary focus, made not only the products easier to use but also made them easier to adore and fall in love with. People after all are more forgiving to beautiful products and will be more forgiving to the issues they may have. Certainly Apple hasn’t always got the design right, but the brand appeal has always worked. Creating new markets to dominate has been a mantra at Apple since it began.

Be Different. Think Different

So many companies are competing against each other with similar agendas. Being superficially different is the goal of so many of the products we see. A preoccupation with differentiation is the concern of many corporations rather than trying to innovate and genuinely taking the time, investing the resources and caring enough to try and make something better.