“Apple’s goal is not to make money, but to make good products”, is the key quote from Wired’s exclusive one-on-one with Jonathan Ive, Apple’s senior vice president of industrial design. The article touches upon several interesting topics dealing with Apple’s design acumen, its business philosophy and some of the inner processes that guide decision-making at the world’s most-valued public corporation.

It’s timely, too. Today, Apple and Samsung have started duking it out in a mega-trial in the U.S. over who copied whom. A bunch of pre-trial briefs have already offered a unique glimpse into Apple’s jealously guarded design process by revealing numerous device prototypes, from the octagonal iPhone to the Sony-inspired design to the ‘Purple’ 2005 thing.

Interestingly, the company’s vice presidents Scott Forstall (iOS chief) and Phil Schiller (marketing boss) will both testify in the U.S. trial, but not Ive…

Speaking at the British Embassy’s Creative Summit, Ive told Wired UK:

We are really pleased with our revenues but our goal isn’t to make money. It sounds a little flippant, but it’s the truth.

Our goal and what makes us excited is to make great products. If we are successful people will like them and if we are operationally competent, we will make money.

This echoes Steve Jobs’ numerous quotes stating the same, that Apple’s customers vote with their wallets. Ive previously shared similar thoughts on Apple’s design process at Apple’s celebration of Steve Jobs’ life. Walter Isaacson’s bio book also contains similar observations from Jobs about the value of industrial design.

Speaking of Jobs, Ive, to whom Apple’s late co-founder once referred to as his spiritual partner, told the publication that money was never Jobs’ focus, not even in the late 1990s when Apple was months away from bankruptcy.

His observation was that the products weren’t good enough. His resolve was to make better products.

Apple’s design guru also shares Jobs’ disdain for focus groups and market research (Apple does some, after all) which “will guarantee mediocrity and will only work out whether you are going to offend anyone”.

Of great design, he said:

I refute that design is important. Design is a prerequisite. Good design — innovation – is really hard.

Really great design is hard. Good is the enemy of great. Competent design is not too much of a stretch. But if you are trying to do something new, you have challenges on so many axes.

And when it comes to Apple’s creative process, Ive describes it with oozing passion:

To me I still think it’s remarkable that at a point in time on a Tuesday afternoon there isn’t an idea and then suddenly later on there is an idea. Invariably they start as a tentative, barely-formed thought that becomes a conversation between a couple of people.

Fragile thoughts morph into ideas which then get prototyped endlessly, something Ive and his team are famous for:

You go from something tentative and exclusive to something tangible and — by nature of it being a thing – a table of people can sit around it and start to understand it; it becomes inclusive and it galvanises and points to a direction for effort.

Samsung attempted to question Apple’s “Designed in California” approach by asserting that Apple stole Sony’s design for the iPhone. Apple fought hard to keep the jury from seeing early prototypes of a Sony-inspired iPhone, seen below and created by designer Shin Nishibori whom Apple hired from Sony.

The Verge reported today that Judge Lucy Koh has now issued an order that Samsung will not be permitted to bring up this prototype during the trial.

However, it’s coincidental that Nishibori, according to his LinkedIn profile, happened to have left Apple just this month, ahead of the monster Apple-Samsung trial which kicked off earlier today in northern California.

Despite Samsung’s objections (“Just like we look to competitors to get inspired, so does Apple”), Nishibori won’t be testifying as Judge Lucy Koh excluded that evidence from legal proceedings.

Would you say that Apple did borrow some design ideas from Sony for the iPhone?

  • It is hard to make any conclusion at the moment since Mr. Nishibori will not testify on the court, and the Sony’s design that Apple allegedly stole will not be on Samsung’s side as a strong evidence in the case. It looks like Apple is taking advantage, but the lawsuit just starts today. We still do not know what Samsung is having in their pocket. Let’s see in the coming days!

  • debunker

    I love how this author turns talking at the British Embassy’s Creative Summit into a “one-on-one with Wired.

    Plus, even though the WSJ write might not have understood the distinction, the point about Apple’s disdain for market research applies to products in development, not already sold products. See Adam Lashinky (“Inside Apple”) findings on this.
    Sigh.