Inside Apple's Industrial Design

TechnologyReview has an interesting article looking into Apple's design process with a focus on Steve Jobs who is said to have established the company's focus on industrial design.

The article interviews Mark Rolston, senior vice president of creative at Frog Design, who has worked with Apple as a design partner.

"Jobs wanted to elevate Apple by using design." Jobs, he says, not only cared personally about design but saw that it could be a way to differentiate his company's products from the PCs of the day, which often looked little evolved from hobbyist boxes.

Unlike design work for a company such as Packard Bell where the casedesign comes together at the last moment, Apple has a significant interest in product design throughout the process. Apple is said to take "an amazing interest in material selection and how things are manufactured" to the point where they are constantly looking for new design processes and willing to retool a factory to accomplish their goals.

Brunner estimates that today Apple spends 15 to 20 percent of its industrial-design time on concept--far more than most other computer companies--and the rest on implementation

Apple also keeps design teams small to try to minimize feature creep and a maintain a minimalist design.

"They're a small team that takes a very, very hands-on approach," adds Rolston. "We do a lot of similar products for other companies--say, Sony. But the process of approval, and collaboration generally--for everything from shape to engineering--involves tons of people, taking up to 50 percent of the time, watering it down." What makes Apple Apple and not Sony, says Rolston, is clarity of voice and vision.

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