12 Reasons Why The Apple Design Process is Nothing Special


You would probably have caught wind of Sir Jony Ive’s rare interview with the London Evening Standard by now. I was not planning to blog about this as I figured that this would just become a pointless re-post. Except something dawned on me as I read the post. My suspicions that Apple’s Design Process is nothing special was confirmed!
While I would encourage you to read the entire interview (which is pretty cool), please let me summarize what Jony shared:
1) The Design Process at Apple is very much about “designing and prototyping and making. When you separate those…the final result suffers.”
2) Designing something new leaves you with little reference, this required focus.
3) Designers need to be “…to be light on your feet, inquisitive and interested in being wrong.”
4) Design’s goal is “…to design and make better products. If we can’t make something that is better, we won’t do it.”
5) Most of Apple’s competitors are only interested in doing something different or new, not necessary better. For Design to make something better, there needs to be discipline, and a sincere and genuine dedication to do so. “Committees just don’t work, and it’s not about price, schedule or a bizarre marketing goal to appear different – they are corporate goals with scant regard for people who use the product.”
6) When an opportunity arises, designers need to ask the “stupid” questions. “…What if we do this, combine it with that, would that be useful? This creates opportunities that could replace entire categories of device, rather than tactically responding to an individual problem.”
7) Not surprising, here is Jony on focus groups: “We don’t do focus groups – that is the job of the designer. It’s unfair to ask people who don’t have a sense of the opportunities of tomorrow from the context of today to design.”
8) The design team works in a collaborative environment with people from different disciplines and different “areas of expertise.”
9) When you are focused on a design problem, you need drive, confidence, and experience to push on.
10) Constant innovation is difficult, and you will never know it is done until you get there.
11) Sometimes an innovation can come from “the smallest shift” that “suddenly transforms the object, without any contrivance.”
12) Consumer are not stupid, they are incredibly discerning, and can “…sense where has been great care in the design, and when there is cynicism and greed.” Consumers are aware of the values of the people who made the product.
Most of you who have been around the block a few times would probably be able to check off 95% of the ways of working highlighted above. The reality is that Apple’s Design process is no different from what the rest of the world uses.
Then why is Apple so successful?
It’s all about the people. This is the key reason why good design fails in any organization.
People who care, people with discipline, people with passion, people that advocate and value design, people who want to do the best, people who can work together, and people who want to make a difference. Sadly the majority of organizations are short of such people, most of which are probably working at Apple.

8 Comments
  • Neil

    March 22, 2012 at 9:01 pm Reply

    Good post (and blog!)
    I loved Ive’s ability to express his views so concisely in the London Evening Standard article.
    To the point in your last paragrpah, I think there’s also an aspect of “designers as decision makers” which attributes to Apple’s success.
    I get the feeling that Ive’s team in Cupertino are able to
    act as both designers AND decision makers in the process of getting new products to market. So not just creating them, but also having the power to say “this is the right thing to do!”
    As an industrial designer who works for a large multi-national corporation, I certainly don’t see a lack of great ideas (even yielding from a not too dissimilar design process). However, the subservience which most business’s impose upon designers, in my mind, is responsible for their own products lack of clarity, focus and conviction – qualities that can be observed in every Apple product.

    • Brian (Design Sojourn)

      April 16, 2012 at 9:53 pm Reply

      @Neil: Great observation. Indeed the difference here is that designers are at the decision making table and not at the end of a decision. If a designer does not sit in the board room, design cannot make a difference or fulfill its promise.

  • WT

    May 6, 2012 at 7:39 am Reply

    Got to admit that apple design is sleek. There is no doubt there. Unfortunately, the software is a piece of crap. It does not work or half working……. 🙁

  • Thomas Parel

    May 8, 2012 at 7:49 am Reply

    Yes indeed- Apple is special because the good design is a core value of the people in power. You have to remember that the same designer with the same process was almost ready to leave till Steve Jobs came back. I have been thinking about why it is that in so many organizations, ID input is optional and ignored if inconvenient. Either design needs a patron in the organization with good taste, or increasingly as the tools to create a business become cheaper, designers should start their own businesses selling products so that the corporations are built from the ground up with design standards that are elegant and delight users while still making buckets of money… I have heard many anecdotes that industrial designers in university multidisciplinary classes rise to be central to class projects- what happens in the transition to the business environment? The power structures have been in places for years and are stacked against designers.
    All of this to say that it is not the design process that is magical at Apple- it is the business priorities and organization that allows design to work its magic.

    • Brian (Design Sojourn)

      May 24, 2012 at 11:57 pm Reply

      @Thomas: Yes indeed, a very astute observation. The magic is that design is a priority at the organization. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  • aupair

    June 4, 2012 at 5:40 pm Reply

    Great Post! Thanks for sharing the summary.

  • Stephen

    July 27, 2016 at 5:13 am Reply

    It’s actually all about getting other companies who are more technically competent than you are (Sony for the sensors, Samsung for the screens and other things) and then slapping your logo on and passing it off as your own. Nope, sorry, it really is that simple.

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