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Summary:

How can consumer electronics makers avoid merely matching new Apple features and try to think ahead of the company’s designers? Apple design guru Jonathan Ive did a rare Q&A about Apple’s design process, how inspirations become actual products and why copycat designs often fail.

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From the iPod to the MacBook Air to the iPhone and iPad, Apple’s style and product design are widely imitated by competitors — you need only glance at the product lineups from Asus, Samsung, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and many others to get a sense of this. While using Apple’s design as inspiration has backfired in terms of sales results for some, it has been a boon to Samsung – which is the exception.

So how can consumer electronics makers avoid merely matching new Apple features or design elements and try to think ahead of the company’s designers? Apple SVP of Industrial Design Jonathan Ive did a rare Q&A with the London Evening Standard about Apple’s iterative design process, how the company dreams up new product ideas, how and when it decides to update devices and why copycat designs often fail:

Q: How does a new product come about at Apple?

A: What I love about the creative process, and this may sound naive, is this idea that one day there is no idea, and no solution, but then the next day there is an idea. Where you see the most dramatic shift is when you transition from an abstract idea to a slightly more material conversation. But when you make a 3D model, however crude, you bring form to a nebulous idea and everything changes — the entire process shifts. It galvanises and brings focus from a broad group of people. It’s a remarkable process.

Q: What are your goals when setting out to build a new product?

A: Our goals are very simple — to design and make better products. If we can’t make something that is better, we won’t do it.

Q: Why has Apple’s competition struggled to do that?

A: Most of our competitors are interested in doing something different, or want to appear new — I think those are completely the wrong goals. A product has to be genuinely better. This requires real discipline, and that’s what drives us — a sincere, genuine appetite to do something that is better.

Head over here to read the rest of the interview.

  1. Ive basically gave away the secret to success. But the business and engineering programs that teach the leadership in this country (and many others) at startups and most companies are so focused on other things, and the execs are just out and out ignorant or misinformed about what design *actually* is; they ignore the importance of process and hiring a designer for a leadership position who can create a culture of good design practice and process.
    Instead, most decisions are made in a panic (or fall back) because, instead of doing it the right way (as Ive describes), the executives panic, do focus groups (because of inadequacy and fear), or pick the safest looking thing (or worse, the strangest option because they *think* that new weirdness is “design” and will sell.
    I recently asked an executive at an organization why they picked the (ugly as hell, awkward, and derivative) identity design (logo for all the executives out there) they were using (basically a slice of a building they own with a swoosh)? The answer, he said with a little embarrassment, was because it was the only one that meant nothing! It was a fallback. Anther VP later remarked they paid a lot for it too! Another design outrage. Look, give a really big crap about your company, what it means, its focus, and its design. Then find a firm that has the same passion about good design and you won’t end up with a crap identity design that looks like hundreds of others. Your have one that has meaning, is timeless, is functional, usable from small to large, clear, elegant, etc. That’s design.

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  2. Jonny is awesome! Thanks for trying to help all those other idiots out.

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