January 11th, 2007
In reading an article about the new iPhone in Time, I ran across the name of Apple’s head of design, Jonathan Ive. But this paragraph really struck me:
The iPhone is a typical piece of Ive design: an austere, abstract, platonic-looking form that somehow also manages to feel warm and organic and ergonomic. Unlike my phone. He picks it up and points out four little nubbins on the back. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Your phone’s got feet on,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says, not unkindly. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Why would anybody put feet on a phone?Ã¢â‚¬Â Ive has the answer, of course: Ã¢â‚¬Å“It raises the speaker on the back off the table. But the right solution is to put the speaker in the right place in the first place. That’s why our speaker isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t on the bottom, so you can have it on the table, and you don’t need feet.Ã¢â‚¬Â Sure enough, no feet toe the iPhone’s smooth lines.
and later in the article:
When our tools don’t work, we tend to blame ourselves, for being too stupid or not reading the manual or having too-fat fingers. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think there’s almost a belligerenceÃ¢â‚¬â€people are frustrated with their manufactured environment,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Ive. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We tend to assume the problem is with us, and not with the products we’re trying to use.Ã¢â‚¬Â
That thought process struck me, and I began looking him up. Ive is responsible for the design of, among other things, the iMac, (the original, also a design of his, was a key product for Apple) the Powerbook G4, the Powermac G4, and of course, the iPod. That’s an impressive portfolio.
Product design is nothing new, and in fact, Ive’s and Apple’s more recent designs weigh heavily on the influence of Dieter Rams, chief designer at Braun in the 1960′s. But the level at which they are taking it in technology is unheard of, and impressive to say the least. The consideration of X factors such as the design of the product, as well as the function, as having an effect on the user experience is something that no other technology company does, or at least as well. And perhaps that emphasis, above all else, is why I see more Macs in the hands of creative people than I do PCs.
What Apple’s #1 product is, is good design, and that is something that is hard to quantify into technical specs. It is also something that is hard to see sometimes, because as Rams states in his ten principals of good design:
Good design is innovative.
Good design makes a product useful.
Good design is aesthetic.
Good design helps us to understand a product.
Good design is unobtrusive.
Good design is honest.
Good design is durable.
Good design is consequent to the last detail.
Good design is concerned with the environment.
Good design is as little design as possible.
Back to purity, back to simplicity.