Apple Design: Why it’s the Company’s Biggest Strength

Whenever Apple unveils a new product, Steve Jobs often mentions “Apple Design” alongside all the other new features. And for good reason – the company takes design very seriously – so seriously that it’s a major selling point and the company has won numerous design awards including eight just this month alone.

Michael Lopp, senior engineering manager at Apple and author of Rands in Repose and the best-selling Managing Humans, shared some insights into Apple’s approach to design as a panelist at this year’s SXSW conference.

Pixel Perfect Mockups

From Businessweek’s Helen Walters:

This, Lopp admitted, causes a huge amount of work and takes an enormous amount of time. But, he added, “it removes all ambiguity.” That might add time up front, but it removes the need to correct mistakes later on.

10 to 3 to 1

Apple designers come up with 10 entirely different mock ups of any new feature. Not, Lopp said, “seven in order to make three look good”, which seems to be a fairly standard practice elsewhere.

Designers have complete creative freedom with those initial 10 designs, then choose to three to refine further until they reach the ultimate design.

Paired Design Meetings

Designers have two regular meetings a week. In the first, they explore any idea without constraints – it’s a chance to push their creativity as far as they can – and then some.

In the second, they try to work out all the details for a crazy idea and see how viable it is in reality.

This process and organization continues throughout the development of any app, though of course the balance shifts as the app progresses. But keeping an option for creative thought even at a late stage is really smart.

Too often, organizations constrain themselves by what they think they can get done, and don’t explore seemingly harebrained ideas. Apple does, and in an ingenious way that transforms what could be boundaries into opportunities that result in the unequaled products they seem to produce with amazing consistency.

The paired meetings, Lopp said, give designers a variety of ideas to present to senior management. Designers:

…take the best ideas from the paired design meetings and present those to leadership, who might just decide that some of those ideas are, in fact, their longed-for ponies. In this way, the ponies morph into deliverables. And the C-suite, who are quite reasonable in wanting to know what designers are up to, and absolutely entitled to want to have a say in what’s going on, are involved and included. And that helps to ensure that there are no nasty mistakes down the line.

It’s amazing to see an organization that’s truly postmodern in its ability to transcend ageless stereotypes. Apple’s designers and management seem to recognize that, above all else, both have value in designing, producing, and selling a smash-hit product – not just once, but with consistency. Isn’t that the secret to success?

(via Infinite Loop)