Apple Craft: it’s the product

I just got back from the Art Center conference called Radical Craft. I wasn’t able to make the first day of the conference, which I was told seemed to be the better of the two days to attend. But I did happen to catch a talk, or more an interview given by Chee Perlman of Jonathan Ive, the VP of Design at Apple. I have to say it was a really great interview. The MC intro went sort of like this, “if Steve Jobs is the design visionary at Apple, then Jonnie Ive is the design soul”. Here are my thoughts about what I enjoyed:

1. Jon is the 100% opposite of the typical design rock star personality. Isaac Mizrahi also presented that same day, actually a really great interview as well, but his personality is huge and clearly a big part of the package. Flamboyant, loud, arms waving, running into the crowd like Jerry Springer. This is not Jon Ive. I think its great to see smart designers that don’t want to be rock stars, talk about their passions in a public venue.

2. He’s clearly focused on one thing, making the product as great as it can be. When asked about what the goals of Apple are, he states that creating and producing the best product possible, is more important than making money. I’m sure some of the business guys would choke hearing this, but I’m of the same belief, that if you really get the product right, the chances of it and the company doing well are much higher. Additionally, you get the benefit of a company with a reputation that delivers quality.

3. Following on about the utter importance of the “product” itself, he states that getting this right, has a much more lasting, positive impact than marketing and sales. Once again, I’m in complete agreement here. Yes the Apple ad campaign creates a grand sense of style and aspiration for us consumers, the itunes store offers a great online experience, but the proof is in the pudding, if the product pleases, it just makes you smile and reinforces the message, but if it disappoints, you’re crying and the message turns into a joke. If the product is done right and delivers, then that creates repeat customers boosting sales.

4. He is a design freak, passionate and fanatical about the details and getting it right. It’s fortunate that he’s in an organization that cares as much as he does.

5. Continuing on design, he states that Apple design is NOT about self expression and more about taking complex problems and making them appear simple. This was said in the context of comparing Apple Design to other designers, like Mizrahi, who would profess to say that the design he produces, IS self expression. On this note, I can’t say I agree with Jon. Yes the current Apple design language is the epitome of simplicity. One could argue that the current line is almost expressionless in its character. But what about the “candy colored” phase of Apple design? Or the jelly fish like Apple/Harmon speakers? Quite expressive if you ask me. What designers produce or at least intend to produce, in my mind, is a clear statement of self expression, whether that expression is simplicity or intricacy or excitement or whatever appropriate thought fits. That product expression is also a direct reflection of where that particular company is at the time as well. Often the reflection can get watered down to a murky blur by too many participants trying leave their own mark, but that’s another blog topic.

It’s clear that Jonathan and his team are in pursuit of excellence. It’s also clear that Apple at large is willing to pay for this and do what it takes to produce great product (poor engineers, they must go through hell!). There is another interesting blog about the cost of innovation from Noise Between Stations which I actually found on Bruce Nussbaum’s Business Week blog who also has some nice thoughts on design. The NBS blog talks about how much Apple pays for innovation and puts it up against sales, good stuff. This all said, as someone traditionally trained in Industrial Design, and now an expert in Experience, Strategic, Brand, Feeling, Styling, Innovation Design ;-) I quite enjoyed Jon’s ability to stay focused on one thing, the product.

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