June 12, 2012

Designed by Apple - How did they do it?

Steve Jobs believed from the beginning that great industrial design would set the newly created company Apple apart from its competitors and make its products distinctive. The computer Apple II featured a colorfully simple logo and a sleek case as seen in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Apple II with a colorfully logo and a sleek case. Source: Wikipedia

While at a conference in Aspen, Steve Jobs was exposed to the spare and functional design philosophy of the Bauhaus Movement. The Bauhaus, a German word meaning "house of building", was a school founded in 1919. Fine art and craft were brought together with the goal of problem solving for a modern industrial society - a society of mass production:
  • There should be no distinction between fine art and applied industrial design
  • Design should be simple, yet have an expressive spirit
  • Emphasized rationality and functionality by employing clean lines and forms
  • God is in the details
  • Less is more

Steve Jobs always liked the Braun products by Dieter Rams.
"What we are going to do is make the products high-tech, and we're going to package them cleanly so that you know they are high-tech. We will fit them in a small package, and then we can make them beautiful and white, just like Braun does with its electronics. ...it all comes down to this: Let's make it simple. Really simple."

He also enjoyed a lamp by Richard Sapper. I'm not really sure, but the lamp was probably a Tizio, as seen in Figure 2. He also liked the furniture by Charles and Ray Eames.

Figure 2. Tizio lamp by Richard Sapper. Source: Wikipedia

Design simplicity should be linked to making products easy to use. It is sometimes difficult to make a product truly simple since a simple product may feel unfriendly. One has to make the products intuitively obvious. The products should also be playful - not cold.

Steve Jobs was also attracted to the Japanese style, much thanks to his devotion to Japanese Zen Buddhism. He thought that the most sublime thing he has ever seen are the gardens around the Japanese city Kyoto as seen in this video:

Invisible details are important. Steve Jobs didn't like the look of the memory chips inside the Macintosh computer and said:
"When you are a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you are not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You will know for sure that it is there, so you are going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through."

The Apple designer Sir Jonatan Ive is also a fan of the German industrial designer Dieter Rams who always said:
"Less but better"

Both Steve Jobs and Sir Jonatan Ive have always embraced minimalism. Apple's design mantra would remain the one featured on its first brochure:
"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" 
...a quote by Leonardo da Vinci. The definition of simplicity is sometimes misunderstood, but Sir Jonathan Ive once said:
"Our goal is simple objects, objects that you can't imagine any other way. Simplicity is not the absence of clutter. It takes a lot of hard work to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges (including manufacturing) and come up with elegant solutions."

Here's a video clip from the documentary Objectified where Sir Jonatan Ive talks about design:

In 2012, a new book was released about Apple's design process. The book is written by Ken Segall who used to work at Apple together with Steve Jobs doing marketing stuff (he came up with the name iMac when Steve Jobs originally thought that MacMan was a better name), and the title of the book is Insanely Simple - The obsession that drives Apple's success.

Steve Jobs is often thought of as being relentless and demanding, but according to Ken Segall, he could also be funny warm, and even charming. There is a huge difference between being brutally honest and being brutal when it comes to design decision. You should always ship products that you are 100 percent proud of and never waste your or someone else's time.

"The work you showed me last week was sh*t. I knew it was sh*t, you knew it was sh*t, but you came all the way out here and showed it to me anyway. That's not acceptable and I never want it to happen again. Ever."

To achieve simplicity, you'll need the following (according to the Insanely Simple book):
  • Start with small groups of smart people, if you add more people, you will add more complexity. Give these talented people real responsibility, and they will work some crazy hours and deliver quality thinking. Steve Jobs had a rule that there could never be more than 100 people on the Mac team. In a smaller team, it's easier to "think different."
  • Pick carefully and focus on the important things. Innovation is saying no to a 1000 things. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple as CEO, he slashed away many of the models Apple had. You can today find only 2 laptop models made by Apple, but you can find 23 models made by HP, and 18 models made by Dell. Trying to please everyone is a good way to please no-one, or as Steve Jobs said:
"Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains."
  • Aim realistically high. Apple didn't begin with the iPhone, Apple began with the simpler iPod. Your project has to end on time and deliver what you have promised. 
  • Zero is the only number that's simpler than one. The iPad features only one button, but now when Siri is here, Apple might have products with zero buttons. 
  • Choose a good name, with perfect clarity, it will tell customers who you are and what you sell. One side note here is that the inspiration to the name NeXT comes from a speech by Bill Gates who used the word "next" to describe new technologies being developed by Microsoft.   
  • The first solution is the beginning and not the end, or as Steve Jobs said:
"When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can oftentimes arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions." 
  • A bad idea remains a bad idea no matter how you try to simplify it, or as Steve Jobs said:
"Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations." 

Update! If you want to learn more about Jony Ive and Apple's design process, you should read my review on the book Jony Ive - The genius behind Apple's greatest products.

Source: London Evening Standard, Steve Jobs

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