Design industry and people

Just finished reading “Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products” by Leander Kahney, which is mainly fascinating because of the abscence of it’s subject. Ive has said so little in public (aside from in corporate pr films) that the book paints a detailed picture of everything around him – the design culture he was raised in, both in education and industry, the design group and wider engineering/manufacturing culture at Apple – right down to gems like this:

“Enter the need for so-called friction stir welding (FSW), a solid-state welding process invented in 1991. It’s actually less of a weld than a recrystallization, as the atoms of the two pieces are joined in a super strong bond when a high-speed bobbin is moved along the edges to be bonded, creating friction and softening the material almost to its melting point.”

Needless to say I really enjoyed it – but Ive is just the hook the book hangs off. It wouldn’t exist or sell as a book without him, although it’s full of fascinating detail about how Apple products are designed and made.

The little you do learn about Ive as a design leader is good. A little hagiographic, but hey. I’d recommend it more for the insights into the design, making and manufacturing approach at Apple than the man at the centre of it however.

‘In America, on the other hand,’ Milton explained, ‘designers are very much serving what industry wants. In Britain, there is more of the culture of the garden shed, the home lab, the ad hoc and experimental quality. And Jony Ive interacts in such a way … [he] takes big chances, instead of an evolutionary approach to design – and if they had focus-grouped Ive’s designs, they wouldn’t have been a success.’

If the education system in America tended to teach students how to be an employee, British design students were more likely to pursue a passion and to build a team around them.

‘As an industrial designer, you have to take that great idea and get it out into the world, and get it out intact. You’re not really practising your craft if you are just developing a beautiful form and leaving it at that.’

I can’t have people working in cubicle hell. They won’t do it. I have to have an open studio with high ceilings and cool shit going on. That’s just really important. It’s important for the quality of the work. It’s important for getting people to do it. – ROBERT BRUNNER

He wanted a ‘small, really tight’ studio. ‘We would run it like a small consulting studio, but inside the company,’ he said. ‘Small, effective, nimble, highly talented, great culture.’4 Setting up a consultancy inside Apple seemed in line with the company’s spirit: unconventional, idea driven, entrepreneurial. ‘It was because, really, I didn’t know any other way,’ Brunner explained. ‘It wasn’t a flash of brilliance: that was the only thing I knew how to do.’

In 1997, English contributed photos to Kunkel’s book about the design group, AppleDesign, but he also worked with a lot of other design studios in the Valley. To his eye, Apple seemed different. It wasn’t just the tools and their focus; the place was rapidly populated with designer toys, too, including spendy bikes, skateboards, diving equipment, a movie projector and hundreds of films. ‘It fostered this really creative, take-a-risk atmosphere, which I didn’t see at other firms,’ said English.

Brunner also made about half a dozen of the designers ‘product line leaders’ (PLLs) for Apple’s major product groups: CPUs, printers, monitors and so on. The PLLs acted as liaisons between the design group and the company, much in the way an outside design consultancy would operate. ‘The product groups felt there was a contact within the design group,’ Brunner said.

Brunner wanted to shift the power from engineering to design. He started thinking strategically. His off-line ‘parallel design investigations’ were a key part of his strategy. ‘We began to do more longer-term thinking, longer-term studies around things like design language, how future technologies are implemented, what does mobility mean?’ The idea was to get ahead of the engineering groups and start to make Apple more of a design-driven company, rather than a marketing or engineering one. ‘We wanted to get ahead of them, so we’d have more ammunition to bring to the process.’

In hindsight, Brunner’s choices – the studio’s separation from the engineering groups, its loose structure, the collaborative workflow and consultancy mind-set – turned out to be fortuitous. One of the reasons Apple’s design team has remained so effective is that it retains Brunner’s original structure. It’s a small, tight, cohesive group of extremely talented designers who all work on design challenges together. Just like the designers had done at Lunar, Tangerine and other small agencies. The model worked.

‘Bob did more than lay the foundations for Jony’s design team at Apple – he built the castle,’ said Clive Grinyer. ‘After Bob, it was the first time that an in-house design team was cool.’

Jony was looking for the Mac NC’s ‘design story’. As his dad, Mike, had instilled in him, developing the design story was an essential first step in conceiving something entirely new. ‘As industrial designers we no longer design objects,’ Jony said. ‘We design the user’s perceptions of what those objects are, as well as the meaning that accrues from their physical existence, their function and the sense of possibility they offer.’

‘When you see the most dramatic shift is when you transition from an abstract idea to a slightly more material conversation,’ Jony said. ‘But when you made a 3-D model, however crude, you bring form to a nebulous idea, and everything changes – the entire process shifts. It galvanizes and brings focus from a broad group of people.

Though Jobs rejected all five names, Segall refused to give up on iMac. He went back again with three or four new names, but again pitched iMac. This time, Jobs replied: ‘I don’t hate it this week, but I still don’t like it.’43 Segall heard nothing more about the name from Jobs personally, but friends told him that Jobs had the name silk-screened onto prototypes of the new computer, testing it out to see if he liked the look. ‘He rejected it twice but then it just appeared on the machine,’ Segall recalled. He came to believe that Jobs changed his mind just because the lower-case ‘i’ looked good on the product itself.

Boxes may seem trivial, but Jony’s team felt that unpacking a product greatly influenced the all-important first impressions. ‘Steve and I spend a lot of time on the packaging,’ Jony said then. ‘I love the process of unpacking something. You design a ritual of unpacking to make the product feel special. Packaging can be theater, it can create a story.’

‘Innovation,’ he wrote, ‘is rarely about a big idea; more usually it’s about a series of small ideas brought together in a new and better way. Jony’s fanatical drive for excellence is, I think, most evident in the stuff beyond the obvious; the stuff you perhaps don’t notice that much, but which makes a difference to how you interact with the product, how you feel about it.’

‘Apple designers spend ten percent of their time doing traditional industrial design: coming up with ideas, drawing, making models, brainstorming. They spend ninety percent of their time working with manufacturing, figuring out how to implement their ideas.’

On iPhone launch day, Jobs turned to Kay and casually asked, ‘What do you think, Alan? Is it good enough to criticize?’ The question was a reference to a comment made by Kay almost twenty-five years earlier, when he had deemed the original Macintosh ‘the first computer worth criticizing’. Kay considered Jobs’s question for a moment and then held up his moleskin notebook. ‘ “Make the screen at least five inches by eight inches and you will rule the world,” he said.’

‘I have literally seen buildings where as far as the eye can see, where you can see machines carving, mostly aluminium, dedicated exclusively for Apple at Foxconn,’ said Guatam Baksi, a product design engineer at Apple from 2005 to 2010. ‘As far as the eye can see.’

Unibody represents a giant financial gamble by Apple. When it started investing seriously around 2007, Apple contracted with a Japanese manufacturer to buy all the milling machines it could produce for the next three years. By one estimate, that was 20,000 CNC milling machines a year, some costing upward of $250,000 and others $1 million or more. The spending didn’t stop there, as Apple bought up even more, acquiring every CNC milling machine the company could find. ‘They bought up the entire supply,’ said one source. ‘No one else could get a look in.’

Apple spent $9.5 billion on capital expenditures, the majority of which was earmarked for product tooling and manufacturing processes. By comparison, the company spent $865 million on retail stores. Thus, Apple spent nearly eleven times as much on its factories as on its stores, most of which are in prime (that is, expensive) real estate locations.

Enter the need for so-called friction stir welding (FSW), a solid-state welding process invented in 1991. It’s actually less of a weld than a recrystallization, as the atoms of the two pieces are joined in a super strong bond when a high-speed bobbin is moved along the edges to be bonded, creating friction and softening the material almost to its melting point. The plasticized materials are then pushed together under enormous force, and the spinning bobbin stirs them together. The result is a seamless and very strong bond. In the past, FSW required machines costing up to three million dollars apiece, so its use was confined to fabricating rocket and aircraft parts. More recent advances allowed CNC milling machines to be retrofitted to perform FSW at a much lower cost. In addition to its other advantages, FSW produces no toxic fumes and finished pieces that require no extra filler metal for further machining, making the process more environmentally friendly than traditional welding.

‘That’s probably the single greatest effect, that we nowadays expect many things to have better designs. Because of Apple, we got to compare crappy portable computers versus really nice ones, crappy phones versus really nice ones. We saw a before-and-after effect. Not over a generation, but within a few years. Suddenly 600 million people had a phone that put to shame the phone they used to have. That is a design education at work within our culture.’

I’m currently reading ‘The nature of technology’ by W.Brian Arthur.

It presents quite the juxtaposition to things like ‘East London Tech City‘ and other recent UK government initiatives.

“Real advanced technology—on-the-edge sophisticated technology—issues not from knowledge but from something I will call deep craft. Deep craft is more than knowledge. It is a set of knowings. Knowing what is likely to work and what not to work. Knowing what methods to use, what principles are likely to succeed, what parameter values to use in a given technique. Knowing whom to talk to down the corridor to get things working, how to fix things that go wrong, what to ignore, what theories to look to. This sort of craft-knowing takes science for granted and mere knowledge for granted. And it derives collectively from a shared culture of beliefs, an unspoken culture of common experience.

Such knowings root themselves in local micro-cultures: in particular firms, in particular buildings, along particular corridors. They become highly concentrated in particular localities.

There’s been some hoo and some haa – about where we work – Shoreditch, Hoxton, near Old St., which my former colleague Matt Biddulph dubbed (as a joke) “Silicon Roundabout“.

The press and politicians seem suprised by the ‘sudden’ growth in technology and design companies in the area, but its been the centre of the London internet ‘industry’ since the mid 1990’s – and been home to artists, designers and printers for decades.

It has also, bizarrely, equated what is going on in the area with providing a large industrial park in Startford full of massive multi-million dollar transnational incumbents e.g. McKinsey, Cisco, Facebook and Google.

In reference to the long-now of place and craft, in ‘The nature of technology’, Arthur quotes Alfred Marshall:

“When an industry has thus chosen a locality for itself, it is likely to stay there long: so great are the advantages which people following the same skilled trade get from near neighborhood to one another. The mysteries of the trade become no mysteries; but are as it were in the air, and children learn many of them unconsciously.”

Sounds a lot like Old St!

He adds:

Technology proceeds out of deep understandings of phenomena, and these become embedded as a deep set of shared knowings that resides in people and establishes itself locally—and that grows over time. This is why countries that lead in science lead also in technology. And so if a country wants to lead in advanced technology, it needs to do more than invest in industrial parks or vaguely foster “innovation.” It needs to build its basic science without any stated purpose of commercial use”

So – probably better to not cut education, or funding for science – rather than encouraging people to ‘do a logo’.

This stuff takes a long time, and requires patient support not soundbites or 5-step plans.

As Arthur points out (with my emphasis):

“Building a capacity for advanced technology is not like planning production in a socialist economy, but more like growing a rock garden. Planting, watering, and weeding are more appropriate than five-year plans.

A bit of a whinge this.

The Design Council is running a design competition for the 2012 London Olympic torch. Exciting! They have a nice page on their website that tells you exactly how exciting it is, and that all you need to do is go to the “CompeteFor” website and register your interest. Of course, we’d love a crack at it.

This is where the trouble begins.

CompeteFor is that kind of website, that you probably have to deal with every day in a big company intranet, or in local government – where almost no concession to the user is made. It’s impossible to navigate, you can’t find the correct entry for the Torch competition – or if you find anything, you’re made entirely unsure that it’s the right thing. It certainly doesn’t sound like the language used on the Design Council page.

And this is what’s disappointing.

You kind of *expect* things like CompeteFor to be that way. We’ve all banged our heads against such screens for years. But I don’t expect for the Design Council to settle for it.

I want some help, guidance or more direct linking. A bit of the ‘service-design’ thinking that they’ve been advocating for years – even if as a triage-like overlay of links and ‘walk-through’ language on their site before they dump you into CompeteFor.

I phoned the Design Council – and spoke to a helpful chap who promised he would find someone to phone me back. In the mean time I have left the comment below on their site.

The deadline is 20th August. Let’s see if I can figure it out before they do.

Hello. The Competefor web service seems to be some kind of initiative test that you’ve devised in order to weed out those without olympic levels of perseverance! It’s not possible from the home page of the service to find easily where the design competition should be registered for, and the registration process for the service itself is quite onerous.

Searching for “torch” leads to three duplicate records for what appears to be an engineering and manufacturing contract, with no validation of whether it is associated with the process you are facilitating or indeed which of the three (if any) should be responded to.

I’d appreciate any help you could give me tracking down how to register interest before the deadline, or indeed if the Design Council could provide a better advertisement for itself by performing some service-design triage on ‘competefor’?


Hurrah! The Design Council responded (only a couple of hours after posting this, good work!)

Hello Matt,

Thank you for your email and for your suggestions.

The Design Council is helping the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games promote the opportunity for designers, engineers and manufacturers to get involved in creating the Olympic Torches for the relay. We are not receiving and assessing entries directly and thus haven’t had the chance to make any impact on the CompeteFor website!

Once you’re on the CompeteFor site, you have to register your details for all LOCOG opportunities. Since you have already done that, you should be able to logon and search for opportunity number #11411323, which is the unique reference number for the Olympic Torch design project. That should provide you with more details of the project and allow you to express your interest in becoming the designer of the torch, and to share your relevant experience. I hope that works for you! If not, CompeteFor has a helpdesk number which should be able to explain their site better than I can! It’s number is 0845 2177804.

Best regards,

Tess Raine

Wall of BERG

“In the next report I submitted, I suggested that the term ‘logogram’ was a misnomer because it implied that each graph represented a spoken word, when in fact the graphs didn’t correspond to our notion of spoken words at all. I didn’t want to use the term ‘ideogram’ either because of how it had been used in the past; I suggested the term ‘semagram’ instead.

It appeared that a semagram corresponded roughly to a written word in human languages: it was meaningful on its own, and in combination with other semagrams could form endless statements. We couldn’t define it precisely, but then no one had ever satisfactorily defined ‘word’ for human languages either. When it came to sentences in Heptapod B, though, things became much more confusing. The language had no written punctuation: it’s syntax was indicated in the way the semagrams were combined, and there was no need to indicate the cadence of speech. There was certainly no way to slice out subject-predicate pairings neatly to make sentences. A ‘sentence’ seemed to be whatever number of semagrams a heptapod wanted to join together; the only difference between a sentence and a paragraph, or a page, was size.

When a Heptapod B sentence grew fairly sizeable, its visual impact was remarkable. If I wasn’t trying to decipher it, the writing looked like fanciful praying mantids drawn in a cursive style, all clinging to each other to form an Escheresque lattice, each slightly different in its stance. And the biggest sentences had an effect similar to that of psychedelic posters: sometimes eye-watering, sometimes hypnotic.”

– “Story of your life“, Ted Chiang

This week we became BERG.
This is BERG.

Wall of BERG

Max Gadney, originally uploaded by moleitau.

I was fortunate enough to work with Max from 1997-1999 right at the beginning of BBC News Online, one of the hardest and funniest times I’ve had in my life.

He’s still at the BBC commissioning and cultivating interesting new formats for online stuff, but he has another life where he creates some lovely blends of comics illustration and infographics for WW2 magazine.

On his blog he also goes into great depth on the decisions and techniques he employs in the creation of the pieces, for instance, this one.

It’s a fabulous resource for those interested in narrative infographics, not least because Max is completely honest about what he thinks has and hasn’t worked.

He’s both exploring what’s possible with some fantastic work and learning in front of us.


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Saw Seymour Powell speak this afternoon. Basically, they gave a great presentation of ideas that aren’t that foreign to anyone practising interaction or product design, but as such still depressingly exotic to marketing, advertising and brand people… And let’s face it – you kind of automatically win if you end with “and here’s the spaceship we designed”…

in a very grand ballroom…
let?s just say that advertising people do their conferences very differently…

masterclass – from seymourpowell

intro by chris thomas -theme of conference is ?ideas with consequence?

design effectiveness
design council study – basket of companies that privilege design outperforms FTSE
effective design – is there any other kind?
it?s not art
david sainsbury – innovation = successful exploitation of new ideas.
brand – a series of promises that do not change over time (bernstein)

Voyage of the dawntreader – what is a star – – what it is, not what it?s made of.

Aston Martin example – ?power, beauty, soul?
?they?ve made a dreadful mistake but putting it on the dashboard.. I don’t want to be told!? (show, don’t tell)
?you don?t own it, it lives in the heart of the consumer?
brands taken and refracted and distorted by forces outside the brand
communications are become more and more fragmented
the product is where the brand keeps it?s promises – where the rubber hits the road.
?audi tt doesn’t need an ad – it is the ad? -john hegarty
the product is an ad that runs every time you pick it up.
even at the end of it?s life – when you discard it.
the brand can be redefined by the product (for good or for ill)
skoda – 10 years refining the product to redefine the brand.
is land-rover a brand or a product?
the dna of the brand is the vehicle, the product
design as a job of reasserting authority for a brand.

brands are far to important to entrust to brand managers
1.7 years is the average tenure of a brand manager
product cycles are typically 2-8years…

emotional ergonomics – you love to use it.
3d dimensional brands

phases of creativity: idea >belief > embodiment

old saw: ?a brief is a collection of the client?s prejudices? is true.

we don?t listen – we watch.
if you listen to focus groups you get post-rationlisation, not insight.
emergent behaviour comes from watching, and if you watch that you find the future.

if 72% of consumer decisions are made at point of sales then how come 72% of the budget isn’t spent there?


?unless we build a receiver into the client, they can?t be read for the violence of the new?

push/pull activity – push from tech, pull from marketing.
poor comms between both usually.

over-ambition can be the death of innovation – the search for the big idea, the category killer
usually great innovation is more about a series of small ideas brought together in a new and orginal way

often innovation theory triumphs over practice – management goobledegook and voodoo. buzzword bingo.

embodying it doesn’t usually fall to the innovation consultants…

innovation sheep-dip – flawed but p.c. idea that everyone can be creative. some people are just more creative than others…. training isn?t always the answer.

good design is cheap, brilliant design is free.

process: gets you the unexpected but relevant solution

?crucible? events – melting point for alloying the points of view of marketing and technical.
embodying an idea is so important – sketching and drawing is crucial.

redesigning the steam iron for tefal
two small headaches from user observation – why do I have to fill it through a tiny hole, why is it always falling off

c.f. shelf-demonstrable

stand somewhere else to solve the problem from where you are used to – to get to the unexpected but relevant solution

new paradigms of product – how do you create them?

when we see something we don?t quite understand – your brain rifles through all the categories it knows and tries to find a match

businesses need to be a zoom lens to see the very small things that might disrupt the vision.

occupy yourself with the parts without losing sight of the whole.

businesses should ask ?why not? more than ?why?

– george bernard shaw quote

?how far do you want to dream?

shows virgin galactic video

they give extremely good talk – the confidence and passion is something to behold…