Home' Technology Review : May June 2007 Contents TECHNOLOGY REVIEW /
FEATURE STORY 59
And, Norman adds, the consultative process could take
a toll on the product line as a whole. Look, he says, at the
70-odd Performa models Apple churned out between 1992
and 1997---models that varied only in hard-drive size, in
whether they had modems, or in whether they were sold
directly or through a retailer.
"The businessman wants to create something for every-
one, which leads to products that are middle of the road,"
says Brunner. "It becomes about consensus, and that s why
you rarely see the spark of genius."
"Critical to Apple s success in design is the way Jobs
brought focus and discipline to the product teams," Nor man
says. "[Jobs] had a single, cohesive image of the nal prod-
uct and would not allow any deviation, no matter how
promising a new proposed feature appeared to be, no mat-
ter how much the team complained. Other companies are
more democratic, listening to everyone s opinions, and the
result is bloat and a lack of cohesion.
"The di erence between BJ and AJ, Before and After
Jobs, is not the process," he continues. "It is the person. Never
before did Apple have such focus and dedication. Apple
used to wobble, moving this way and that. No more."
One direct result of that sharpened focus is Apple s unique
ability to create simple products. Though the idea of a simple
high-tech device seems counterintuitive (why not o er more
functionality if you can?), it s worked for Apple.
"The hardest part of design, especially consumer elec-
tronics," says Norman, "is keeping features out." Simplicity,
he says, is in itself a product di erentiator, and pursuing it
can lead to innovation.
Rolston agrees. "The most fundamental thing about
Apple that s interesting to me," he says, "is that they re just
as smart about what they don t do. Great products can be
made more beautiful by omitting things."
Brunner says that part of what makes minimalist design
possible at Apple is the way Jobs structured the design
group---and the way he privileged it. "The design leader
has to walk a ne line," he says. "He has to be integrated
with the company but keep his team members protected
from being lobbied by marketing, engineers, manufactur-
ers. They all have viewpoints on design." In recognition
of these pressures, Apple has always kept its design team
small---somewhere between 12 and 20 people, Br unner
"They re a small team that takes a very, very hands-on
approach," adds Rolston. "We do a lot of similar products
for other companies---say, Sony. But the process of approval,
and collaboration generally---for everything from shape to
engineering---involves tons of people, taking up to 50 percent
of the time, watering it down." What makes Apple Apple
and not Sony, says Rolston, is clarity of voice and vision.
And the secret to that clarity may be, like Edgar Allen
Poe s purloined letter, hidden in plain sight. Sources will
say, o the record, that Apple s design mavens shun inter-
views in order to sustain the idea that their success is the
result of having a great team in place. But it may ultimately
boil down to who hired and gave power to that team---Steve
Jobs as not just an enabler but an active participant.
"Jobs is a dictator, but with good taste," says Nor man.
"He is good and driven to the perfect experience. He doesn t
want good design; he wants great design." Br unner simi-
larly lauds Jobs s "driven, singular focus." And Rolston
says, in what is perhaps the best explanation of Apple s
design ascendancy, "It s a happy coincidence at Apple that
the designer in chief is the CEO. He has a fantastic sense of
what people want. And after all, that is design."
Dan Turner is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. His work
has appeared in I.D., Salon, the New York Times, and elsewhere.
Apple s designs are now
the stuff of legend---and
the object of fascination and
envy. But is the focus on
design worth it? Why spend
time and money making a
computer look good? Why do
we care what it looks like?
"Attractive things work
better," says Don Norman,
who was vice president of
advanced technology at
Apple from 1993 to 1998.
"When you wash and wax a
car, it drives better, doesn t it?
Or at least feels like it does."
Norman cites research in
cognitive science suggesting
that people s emotions affect
the way their minds process
information. In his 2004
book Emotional Design, he
writes, "Positive emotions are
critical to learning, curiosity,
and creative thought. ... The
psychologist Alice Isen and
her colleagues have shown
that being happy broadens
the thought processes and
facilitates creative thinking."
In multiple studies, Isen,
a professor of psychology
and S. C. Johnson Profes-
sor of Marketing at Cornell
University, made subjects
feel happy through a number
of means, including gifts of
candy and words or pic-
tures with pleasant asso-
ciations. The subjects were
then asked to perform tasks
that measure creativity; over
the course of 20 years, Isen
and her colleagues regularly
found that subjects exhibited
much more creativity when
they were in a good mood.
And conversely, Norman
says, when you re in a bad
mood, when you re tense, you
tend to be less creative---and
less patient with the tools
you re using. "Someone in a
positive mood," Norman says,
"faced with something that
doesn t work, might say, Oh,
I ll get around it. But someone
in a negative mood will get
frustrated and have a Damn
it moment." That s where
design comes in. "Studies tie
attractive design to positive
attitude," he says.
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