Apple’s design process highlighted in Time cover story

The October 24th edition of Time magazine features a cover story on Apple and how the company is different from others when it comes to designing new products. While Apple CEO Steve Jobs is featured on the cover holding the new fifth-generation iPod, most of the article is devoted to analyzing the design process at Apple. The cover story contains some choice quotes from a number of Apple executives, including Jobs, Jonathan Ive and Tony Fadell. A paid subscription is required to read the full article.

Time’s Lev Grossman says that there are two things going on inside Apple—collaboration and control. When it comes to a new product, it’s a joint effort—the company does not pass a product down the line, from team to team. “There aren’t discrete, sequential development stages,” explains Grossman. “Instead, it’s simultaneous and organic. Products get worked on in parallel by all departments at once—design, hardware, software—in endless rounds of interdisciplinary design reviews.”

Jobs compares Apple’s design process to other companies. “You know how you see a show car,” Jobs says, “and it’s really cool, and then four years later you see the production car, and it sucks? And you go, What happened? They had it! They had it in the palm of their hands! They grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory! What happened was, the designers came up with this really great idea. Then they take it to the engineers, and the engineers go, ‘Nah, we can’t do that. That’s impossible.’ And so it gets a lot worse. Then they take it to the manufacturing people, and they go, ‘We can’t build that!’ And it gets a lot worse.”

Time’s Grossman describes the “control” of Jobs: “Sure, Jobs is perfectly pleasant to be around. And he pays attention to what you’re saying, but if he disagrees with it… he’ll come storming back and hammer at you until you change your mind or at least shut up… In other words, Jobs is into control. In itself, that is of no real importance, except that in a lot of ways, Apple is an expression of Jobs’ personal ethos.”

Finally, Jobs talks of the new iPod’s potential. “There is no market today for portable video,” he says. “We’re going to sell millions of these to people who want to play their music, and video is going to come along for the ride. Anyone who wants to put out video content will put it out for this. And we’ll find out what happens.”

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