Apple’s design traits come from single parent: founder Steve Jobs

Apple Store“Apple, Inc. has made an art of not talking about its products. Fans, journalists, and rumormongers who love it or love to hate it have long had to practice a sort of Kremlinology to gather the merest hints as to what is coming next out of Cupertino,” Daniel Turner writes for Technology Review.

“A case in point is this story, which was to be about the iPhone–about how an innovative and gorgeous piece of technology was conceived, designed, and produced by the vaunted industrial-design team at Apple. Along the way, it would address the larger question of how one company can so consistently excel at making products that become icons, win design awards, and inspire customers,” Turner writes.

“But the omerta that prevails at Apple proved too strong. Company representatives declined to speak with me, and sources only tangentially engaged with the industrial-design process said that they could not talk either. When I asked Paul Kunkel, author of the 1997 book AppleDesign, for tips on obtaining interviews, he laughed and said, “Go sit outside the design-group offices with a pizza.” What follows is as clear a picture of the Apple design process as we could get,” Turner writes.

“To whatever degree Apple can be said to make products with a distinctive genetic code, they can also be said to have inherited most of their traits from a single parent: founder Steve Jobs,” Turner writes.

Full article – recommended – here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Macaday” for the heads up.]

21 Comments

  1. Am I the only one disturbed by the use of the term “omerta” when talking about Apple’s famed secrecy. The book definition is: a code of silence about criminal activity and a refusal to give evidence to authorities.

    I think this fits microsoft during their antitrust trial more so than Apple. A reporter is no “authority” and there is nothing criminal about protecting your intellectual property.

  2. This quote nails what it is that makes Apple different from some other companies we all know (and revile):

    “The most fundamental thing about Apple that’s interesting to me … is that they’re just as smart about what they don’t do. Great products can be made more beautiful by omitting things.”

  3. There have been some odd design decisions in the past. Here’s one: on the original iMac, there was a cover for the ports on the right side of the machine. Cables were to be strung through a hole in the cover. It preserved the sleek look of the machine but was totally not practical. The cover was gone in the next iMac revision. No fans for the CPU’s for 2nd revision iMacs was a horrible decision as well. The designs have been fantastic in recent years.

  4. Decent article, but flawed pretty badly in one spot IMHO. The guy (forgot name) said something like “If something looks better, it works better. When you wash and wax a car it seems to drive better, right? Blah blah”. He is missing the point. The machines are appliances to improve quality of life. When you go to an appliance store shopping for a new dishwasher appearance will be a factor in your purchase, you want it to look a certain way. Computers are moving closer and closer to the living room, they should look good too, huh? Of course the Windows and Linux fanboys often say “Eh, Macs, form over function” or whatever. They are clueless.

  5. “This quote nails what it is that makes Apple different from some other companies we all know (and revile):

    ‘”The most fundamental thing about Apple that’s interesting to me … is that they’re just as smart about what they don’t do. Great products can be made more beautiful by omitting things.”‘

    bdb, I couldn’t agree more. As a graphic designer, I live by these two quotes:

    “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
    – Antoine De Saint-Exupery

    “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
    – Leonardo Da Vinci

    Obviously SJ, Jonathan Ive, and the rest of Apple’s design dept. are familiar with them too.

  6. Great article! Yes, a couple of false steps (“omerta,” etc.), but many great points summarized in one place, including:
    –How typical “design” at HP and others is different from design at Apple
    –The value of positive emotions on creativity, and the fact that design can encourage positive emotions

  7. > …Fans, journalists, and rumormongers who love it or love to hate it have long had to practice a sort of Kremlinology to gather the merest hints as to what is coming next out of Cupertino….

    You mean like Leopard? iPhone? A sub-notebook? Or you want to know the what and details even before they’ve been decided on and fleshed out…sort of, in advance?

    > …they can also be said to have inherited most of their traits from a single parent: founder Steve Jobs….

    Your standards are so low you neglect to consider the fact that Apple has been a leading innovator from the start. The Mac GUI was designed in-house, for example, and the genetic code, if you will, extends all the way to present day XCode. Call it sound engineering: determine the best road to follow, develop the technologies required to achieve it, and stick to the plan. Jobs, Jobs, Jobs…yeah…the lazy thinker’s guide to Apple.

    > …Even in the early 1980s, Rolston says, “Jobs wanted to elevate Apple by using design.”

    Duh…and Dell wants to elevate itself by NOT using design? It’s common sense to me, if you’re designing a consumer product, design is important. So they push the envelope…why not?

    > …”That’s why it’s perfect,” says Brunner, “and the reason this is getting done is because Steve Jobs is saying, ‘Do it.'”

    Well, kudos to Jobs for not sittin’ on his ass and getting some work done! Or muttering, “Whatever, dude. Just do what you can to make it cool!”

    So what’s my beef with this article? It’s shallow. It’s like so dazzled by Steve that it’s unable to fathom the corporate culture of excellence in everything it does…because that would require some effort in…er, Kremlinology. Come on, man, dig deeper.

  8. Of course the Windows and Linux fanboys often say “Eh, Macs, form over function” or whatever. They are clueless.

    Whether you are a Windows fanboy, Linux fanboy, Apple fanboy, or cocain addict, “form over function” is bad. What the fanboys don’t realize is, Macs have form and function.

  9. after reading this article, i find myelf quite confused. i’m an apple stockholder (much more then a few shares), have an macbook & ipod. but i find it quite disturbing that apple is all about steve jobs. granted he has done an excellent job, but what happens when he’s gone, via retirement, sickness or something else. the value of apple stock will immediately drop by 25%. i think its time the pundits to start talking more about apple and a little less about mr jobs. my stock has done quite well. and i dont want to see anything happen to it.

    ps…i plan to get an iphone when it hits london

  10. If Steve Jobs retires all it will take is a strong willed son of a bitch or the bitch herself to sit at their CEO’s desk and look at the framed iPod and iPhone on the wall and the caption that says,

    DESIGN IS NOT JUST WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE AND FEELS LIKE. DESIGN IS HOW IT WORKS, STUPID.

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