Sexy Challenges - Personal Zen Garden
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You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential. That was the fundamental principle Jobs and Ive shared. Design was not just about what a product looked like on the surface.
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As a result, the process of designing a product at Apple was integrally related to how it would be engineered and manufactured. We kept going back to the beginning, again and again. Do we need that part? Can we get it to perform the function of the other four parts? At most other companies, the requirements specified by the engineers tend to circumscribe what the industrial designers can do when it comes to the outward appearance of the product.
For Jobs, that process tended to work the other way. In the early days of Apple, Jobs approved the shape and outward appearance of the case of the Apple III and the original Macintosh, and then told the engineers to make their boards and components fit. After he was forced out, the process at Apple shifted to being engineer-driven. The first great design triumph to come from the Jobs-Ive collaboration was the iMac, a desktop computer aimed at the home consumer. Jobs had certain specifications.
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It should be an all-in-one product, with keyboard and monitor and computer combined in a simple unit that was ready to use right out of the box. And it should have a distinctive design that made a brand statement. Ive and his top deputy, Danny Coster, began to sketch out futuristic designs. Jobs rejected the dozen foam models they initially produced, but Ive knew how to guide him gently.
He agreed that none of them was quite right, but he pointed out one that had promise. It was curved, playful-looking and did not seem like an unmovable slab rooted to the table. By the next showing, Ive had refined the playful model. This time Jobs, with his binary view of the world, raved that he loved it.
He took the foam prototype and began carrying it around the headquarters with him, showing it in confidence to trusted lieutenants and board members. Apple was celebrating in its ads the glories of being able to think different. Yet up until now, nothing had been proposed that was much different from existing computers.
Finally, Jobs had something new. The plastic casing that Ive and Coster proposed was sea-green blue, and it was translucent so that you could see through to the inside of the machine. You could have color, but it felt so unstatic. And it came across as cheeky. Both metaphorically and in reality, the translucency connected the engineering of the computer to the design. Jobs had always insisted that the rows of chips on the circuit boards look neat, even though they would never be seen.
Now, they would be seen. The casing would make visible the care that had gone into making all the components of the computer and fitting them together. The playful design would convey simplicity while also revealing the depths that true simplicity entails. Even the simplicity of the plastic shell itself involved great complexity.
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At other companies, there would probably have been presentations and studies to show whether the translucent case would increase sales enough to justify the extra cost. Jobs asked for no such analysis. Topping off the design was the handle nestled into the top of the iMac. It was more playful and semiotic than it was functional.
This was a desktop computer. Not many people were really going to carry it around. But as Ive later explained:. I could see my mum being scared to touch it. It gives you permission to touch. It gives a sense of its deference to you. Unfortunately, manufacturing a recessed handle costs a lot of money. At the old Apple, I would have lost the argument. Jobs and Ive proceeded to make beguiling design a signature of all future Apple computers. There was a consumer laptop that looked like a tangerine clam, and a professional desktop computer that suggested a Zen ice cube.
Like bell-bottom pants that turn up in the back of a closet, some of these models looked better at the time than they do in retrospect, and they show a love of design that was, on occasion, a bit too exuberant. But they set Apple apart and provided the publicity bursts it needed to survive in a Windows world. When flat-screen displays became commercially viable, Jobs decided it was time to replace the iMac. Ive came up with a model that was somewhat conventional, with the guts of the computer attached to the back of the flat screen. There was something about the design that lacked purity, he felt.
Jobs went home early that day to mull the problem, then called Ive to come over.
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He immersed himself daily in the design of the original iPod and its interface. And the click should be intuitive. Unlike Microsoft, which licensed out its Windows operating system software to different hardware makers, such as IBM and Dell, Apple created products that were tightly integrated from end to end. This was particularly true of the first version of the iPod. Everything was tied together seamlessly: the Macintosh hardware, the Macintosh operating system, the iTunes software, the iTunes Store and the iPod hardware and software.
This allowed Apple to make the iPod device itself much simpler than rival MP3 players, such as the Rio. So by owning the iTunes software and the iPod device, that allowed us to make the computer and the device work together, and it allowed us to put the complexity in the right place. By integrating hardware and software, he was able to achieve both.
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In the year since Steve Jobs died and my biography of him was published, I was struck by two conflicting reactions that the book provoked. Some people were put off by how petulant and abrasive he could be. But others, especially younger entrepreneurs or people who had run businesses, focused on how his petulance was linked to his artistic sensibility and drive for design perfection. I believe that the latter interpretation is closer to the truth.
Jobs was, at times, very demanding, indeed a jerk. But the world is filled with demanding bosses and jerks, most of whom never amount to much. What made Jobs special, sometimes even a genius, was his fiery instinct for beauty, his talent for creating it and his conviction that it mattered. And because of that, he was able to build a company that became the greatest force for innovative design—and the best proof of its importance—in our time.