Sir Jonathan Ive shared some interesting insights into Apple's design magic in a rare interview in the Evening Standard. Ive rarely takes centre stage, but he's the design genius behind the company's stream of amazing products, starting with iMac back in 1998, through the iPod, iPhone and iPad. All this, and the guy is only 45.
Here are my four fave insights from the interview.
1. Creating a truly better product
Some people still mistakenly put Apple's success down to being a cool, trendy lifestyle brand.
In reality, Apple is driven by passion for creating truly superior products. Also, Apple focuses on delivering a better customer experience, not just new technology gimmicks for the sake of novelty. This is why Ive thinks competitors find it hard to match Apple's performance.
"Most of our competitors are interesting in doing something different, or want to appear new - I think those are completely the wrong goals. What drives us (is) a sincere, genuine appetite to do something that is better."
Of course, Apple has emotional appeal. But this flows from the product design, not advertising. The emotional "sizzle" comes from having a superior product "sausage". Or, in Ive's own words:
"I think that people’s emotional connection to our products is that they sense our care, and the amount of work that has gone into creating it."
Today teams are increasingly separated around the world in different locations. Collaboration is hard, and has to happen via email, video conference hell (why do they still not work?) or occasional, often rushed meetings.
Well, not at Apple. Collaboration is key, and this happens by having a cross-functional team working together in California.
"The complexity of these products really makes it critical to work collaboratively. I work with silicon designers, electronic and mechanical engineers. We’re located together, we share the same goal, have exactly the same preoccupation with making great products."
3. The power of prototyping
Over and over we see on our brandgym projects the power of prototyping, and bringing things to life. So much time is wasted on Powerpoint presentations and strategising. And poor consumers are supposed to react to new product ideas by being shown written concepts and expected to imagine what the real thing will be like. Here's Ive on prototyping at Apple:
"The design process at Apple... is very much about designing and prototyping and making. When you made a 3D model, however crude, you bring form to a nebulous idea, and everything changes - the entire process shifts. It galvanises and brings focus from a broad group of people."
4. Imagining the future
Apple is one of the few examples of companies capable of creating whole new categories, and then taking a leading share. They did it with the iPhone, driving the market move to smartphones. They did it with iPod and portable music players. And again with the iPad. And this comes not just from solving problems in an incremental way, but by imagining new opportunities that deliver a step-change in benefits:
"You start asking 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."
And of course, designing this future requires design leadership from Apple. It can't come from consumer research, which is always a rear view mirror look at the world:
"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."
So, take a bow Sir Jonathan. And thanks for your inspiration, showing the power of product passion, prototyping and collaboration. Its been an amazing 14 years of products since the iMac. Who knows what other tricks he has up his sleeve for the next 14?