Friday, December 10, 2021

Inside Apple’s Design Team

Jonathan Bell (Hacker News):

Ive was intensely involved with the building’s design (as was Steve Jobs during the project’s early stages). The team before us now very much reflect the realisation of the two men’s aspirations for a bespoke Apple building. ‘[The Apple Design Team] can share the same studio,’ Ive told Wallpaper in 2017. ‘We can have industrial designers sat next to a font designer, sat next to a sound designer, who is sat next to a motion graphics expert, who is sat next to a colour designer, who is sat next to somebody who is developing objects in soft materials.’


While new category killers such as Apple Watch and AirPods might appear effortless and fully formed from the outset, the work behind the scenes was staggering. Take the Human Factors Team, which blends experts in ergonomics, cognition and behavioural psychology. When AirPods’ development began a decade or so ago, human factors researcher Kristi Bauerly found herself researching the ‘crazily complex’ human ear.


Yet even something as superficially simple but environmentally beneficial as removing the plastic shrink-wrap from an iPhone box induces a paroxysm of self-examination within the team. How can the unboxing experience be maintained? Can it be made more accessible? The problem was mulled over, pulled apart and ultimately solved with an elegant paper tab mechanism. The change will save around 600 metric tonnes of plastic over the life of the product.


Accessibility and inclusiveness are vital components of the Design Team’s work.

The Accessibility options in Settings and System Preferences are increasingly vital to making their work usable.

Via Dave Mark:

If nothing else, follow the headline link and scan through the photos.

That first one shows a breathtaking view from the fourth floor inside Apple Park. The third shows Evans Hankey, VP of industrial design, and Alan Dye, VP of human interface design, in the Design Studio. Scroll down a bit more and you’ll see a model maker assembling camera modules for iPhone 13 Pro camera lenses into cosmetic models.

David Sparks:

I can’t help but think that every picture looks arranged and posed. This is not the design team ‘at work’. They are instead posing for a magazine shoot.


I wish that in addition to rooms dedicated to typography and color science, they also showed an even bigger room dedicated to user interface design. In my opinion, Apple’s hardware is untouchable at this moment, but some of the software mechanics and user interfaces need work. I wish I saw signs they were working more on that.


That said, relying on something Steve Jobs said years ago to justify your work is the wrong way to go about it. During Alan Dye’s tenure as VP of human interface design, Apple has become very opinionated and, arguably, too minimal. Removal of proxy icons is just one example of this. It feels like the veneer is getting way too much attention at the expense of the working bits.


13 Comments RSS · Twitter

The photos are very "Avenue 5".

Like the design team in the photos are just actors who don't know anything, and the actual work is done in messy labs hidden under the floor.

Beatrix Willius

The rooms look dead and sterile.

The only picture that looks remotely real is the audio engineer, sitting alone in his room with a mess of cables in front of him. The other pictures look like somebody went wild on a stock photo site.

I read things like how they sweat over plastic wrapping, and wonder why the butterfly keyboard ever got made.

No real engineering lab I ever worked in was that full of neats... Some manager must have told them to tidy up for the photo session. "Impromptu"? I think they meant "Staged".

They found a few models (it is California, after all) and had a bunch of workers empty the tables and lift them up to sunrooms that are otherwise unused (because who wants to work in such a sterile environment with harsh lighting?).

I also couldn't help but notice the convenient "see? This is why working from home isn't feasible" propaganda side effect.

Using a bench to sit multiple persons at a table does not sound like a good design in the Covid era.

Also, I've never seen people watching someone else write something in a notebook during an engineering meeting by positioning themselves behind him...

In the 21st century we have these modern things called laptops on which people can type and share notes... It's actually funny the way computers are artifacts in these pictures, not tools being used. It's as if Apple were a scribarium in a Middle Ages monastery. Is not using computers the basis of their success?

Nah. Physical notebooks or non-electronic flipcharts and whiteboards are still quite popular. The digital equivalents simply aren't there yet; even if you take something high-end like a $9k Surface Hub 2S, it feels very smartphones pre-iPhone. Neither the software side nor the hardware (pixel density, refresh rate, etc.) and especially not the price tag have come to the point where they can easily displace non-digital variants. (Analog analogs, one might say.)

Kevin Schumacher

Man, you people are cynical.

Are the photos staged? Of course they are. They're portraits, not candids. That doesn't mean they hired actors (they literally identify some of the people in the photos), nor does it mean they went to some conference room nobody ever uses. Did they clean up beforehand? Yeah, of course. As one does.

Based on how Apple Stores look, and the fact that these offices don't have thousands of people running through them every week (so therefore much easier to keep tidy, especially in shared spaces like a conference room), it doesn't look out of place at all.

As far as looking over the guy's shoulder, I assume he's sketching something as opposed to them watching him write.

Finding it normal to stage a clearly fake "work session", and considering such lying as totally expected, to me, that is truly cynical.

The pictures look like an advert for Saatchi and Saatchi, or someone else in the art space. No technology anywhere. Sure, drawing something is popular. But as Soren said whiteboarding is commonplace (recorded either by the whiteboard or by a photo), but drawing in a notebook? I've never seen that. Perhaps, but no use of a laptop anywhere? That's really odd in a Fortune 500 company. Perhaps they have very high resolution cameras in the ceiling above the workspace?

nor does it mean they went to some conference room nobody ever uses.

For a demo room, you’d think they have something like a projector somewhere, and/or a large TV on a wall. So it presumably isn’t that. For a regular work room, the lighting is ergonomically awful, and I’m not seeing any power outlets, much less HDMI, Ethernet, something, anything. (Yes, I know AirPlay is a thing.)

Based on how Apple Stores look

I doubt the backdoor room where repairs take place in an Apple Store looks remotely like this. A showroom? Yes, of course it would roughly look like this. And that’s my criticism: this doesn’t seem to depict how any of those people actually work.

If they do work like that, it seems to fit the misguided design principles of the 12-inch MacBook, the iOS 7 UI or, indeed, some of the early remarks on the Apple Park: optimized for verneer, not practicality.

So, yes, this article does make me cynical. It’s either disingenuous, or the working environment of that team is actually quite representative of some of the things typically attributed to Jony Ive post-Jobs. Of course you clean up a little before a photo shoot, but this is more than that.

Kevin Schumacher

> Finding it normal to stage a clearly fake "work session", and considering such lying as totally expected, to me, that is truly cynical.

How exactly is it lying? Do the photographs have captions like "This was taken on December 1, 2021, and the participants were discussing the contours of the unannounced iPad Pro 2022 model. Designer Jim Smith is seen sketching one of the corners"? Or is it just a picture of people that work for Apple in a room that Apple owns where they probably sometimes work?

Were they doing actual work at the actual moment that the camera took a picture? No, of course not. Do you know for certain that that group of people was not having a meeting that day in that room anyway, and so they invited the photographer to come take a picture of them there? No, you don't. Did they not have a meeting scheduled that day, but that is the room where that group of people routinely meets? You don't know that, either. But somehow you get from there to "lying," as if most every photograph in most every magazine spread is not staged or posed in some way.

> I doubt the backdoor room where repairs take place in an Apple Store looks remotely like this.

If someone was coming to your house to photograph, would you show them to the back part of the basement where the water heater has been for 20 years and the floor is kind of uneven and there's a musty smell in the air, or would you show them to your sparkling living room where you spent the prior day cleaning on hands and knees and then threatening your kids that so help me, if you don't keep this room clean until tomorrow after the people leave, you're never going to be ungrounded?

Also, of all companies, I would expect the repair room in the back of the Apple Store to be semi put together and not a literal disaster zone, like how the Geek Squad area at Best Buy looks.

Also also, I recall reading in the past that the interior design at Apple Park was inspired by the retail stores or vice versa, especially in terms of the furniture, so this is absolutely how I would expect a room in Apple Park to look.

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