On the Apple campus in Cupertino, California, is a room enclosed by smoked glass. It’s a top-secret design studio so private that some of Apple’s top-level executives don’t even have access to it.
It’s here where Apple’s senior vice president of design, Sir Jonathan Ive, works. Ive designed the Apple Watch and also designed the iMac, the new MacBook, the iPhone and iPad. He also co-designed Apple’s new headquarters and campus.
You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential.
– Jony Ive
Ive, an industrial designer his entire professional career, doesn’t like fanfare and prefers to work behind the scenes. You may be more familiar with his voice. Ive provided the narration for the Apple Watch promo video.
Ive probably has the best job at Apple. He oversees both hardware and software for Apple. That includes every icon, every swipe, tap or typeface. Apple calls it Human Interface, and Ive is its CEO.
Learning the engineering and design process really paid off for Ive. Steve Jobs once said of him, “He has more operational power than anyone else at Apple, except me.”
Apple’s Top-Secret Design Studio
The design studio is a sacred space that accommodates Ive and 19 other industrial designers (whose names rarely are mentioned outside of a patent application or other legal document). It’s here that they create the future.
The space is open, about 3,000 square feet and contains everything a designer working 12-hour days may need: a kitchen, a dozen waist-high oak worktables, workstations that are each dedicated to a particular part or single Apple product. There are three 8-foot-high fabrication machines that make plastic and metal parts.
When visitors, like the President of the United States or a writer for The Wall Street Journal, get a special tour of the space, even they don’t get to glance at future Apple products. Instead, they are greeted by grey satin dust covers which are draped over the worktables.
The Design Process
Designers work out products through notebooks, graphic design and other creative iterations, until the part or product reaches its final form. A project has a lead designer, but since designers give input on other projects, “the team” and not the individual, gets credit for the idea.
Not like they would have anyone to tell; as part of Apple’s employee agreement, designers can’t tell anyone what they’re working on.
When Apple designers create a new prototype of an older product, they place the prototype next to the older version, to see how advanced the new prototype feels.
This photo from 2005 offers an extremely rare look inside the design studio at Apple. From left to right: Todd Fadell (founder of Nest and now overseeing Google Glass), Jon Rubinstein, Jony Ive, Steve Jobs and Phil Schiller work out the look and feel of the iPod Nano.
Designing for the Future
Designers craft the things we love, so it’s no wonder most designers love their jobs.
And there are many paths for a designer: learning mobile web design, for example, which is a skill that’s in great demand, or graphic design. It’s not the only the process that’s rewarding but being able to take your design to completion and hold a finished product in your hand.
Much like Apple’s Jony Ive, whose latest design, the Apple Watch, is now impacting consumers across the globe.