Financial Times writer Sathnam Sanghera recently sat down with Apple’s Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive to discuss the company’s philosophy towards design on the occasion of its receipt of the prestigious D&AD Award.
Ive explained that Apple’s design team is very small and comprised of a handpicked group of people. Calling the design process “very collaborative,” he said that the small group has a “pre-verbal” way to communicate with each other which works best given the size.
“At their inception, ideas are invariably fragile and it’s easy to miss them. Small groups of people are more sensitive to spotting these good ideas. With hindsight, a great idea seems obvious, but it’s not always easy to spot in the process,” said Ive.
Ive told Sanghera that it took considerably longer than usual to design the flat-panel iMac — about two years compared to eight months for some other ideas. In fact, said Ive, good ideas that would have been able to be produced on schedule were generated early on, but the team “just felt that the ideas weren’t good enough” and started over.
Design has, for as long as Jobs and Ive have been collaborating, been at the forefront of Apple’s product presentation. Yet even Ive said that Apple’s not interested in design statements. “We do everything we can to simplify design. One of our victories and successes with the iPod and iMac is that we have removed the clutter that should, by functional right, be there,” he explained.
While Apple’s track record for design is impressive — it’s the only company to have won D&AD Gold Awards four years in a row, according to Sanghera — it’s not without flaws, a point even Jobs is willing to concede when it comes to the Power Mac G4 Cube.
Admitting the company “made a mistake” with the Cube, presuming pros would rather have a small computer than an expandable one, Jobs is upbeat about the experience. “But, you know, if we don’t make a mistake like that every once in a while then maybe we’re not trying hard enough. Mistakes are the result of innovating.”