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Here's a Peek inside Apple's "Maniacal" Design Process, Thanks to the Perpetual Patent War

The best reason to pay attention to the Apple-Samsung patent battle has nothing to do with patents or battle, really. To prove how they worked for years to develop products that Samsung simply copied, Apple is sending in its most senior designers to...
August 1, 2012, 4:30pm

The best reason to pay attention to the Apple-Samsung patent battle has nothing to do with patents or battle, really. It has to do with design. To prove how they worked for years to develop products that Samsung simply copied, Apple is sending in its most senior designers to explain the process that goes into conceiving of something like the iPhone. Wearing a white suit and long salt-and-pepper colored hair Christopher String, who’s worked as an industrial designer at Apple since 1995 and has been involved in the design of every Apple product since then, took the stand on Tuesday and walked the jury through the basics.

Funnily enough, the bulk of Apple’s design work happens just like any good family meeting. “We work together around a kitchen table,” Stringer said. “We'll sit there with our sketch books and trade ideas. That's where the really hard, brutal honest criticism comes in.” The best of the sketches make their way into digital form through a computer aided design program, and eventually, if it’s good enough, a physical prototype.

In the years of development from 2003 to 2007, Apple cranked out at least 40 different prototypes for the iPhone and iPad, many of which look only slightly different than the models that make it to market. Stringer brought pictures — see a collection of them at The Verge — and even examples of the prototypes to court, explaining how they would sometimes change just a single detail on a device to create a new iteration. “We are a pretty maniacal group of people,” Stringer said. “The size, the length, the width, the height — every single detail is crafted.”

Stringer didn’t hold back when asked about lookalikes. “We’ve been ripped off,” he declared, pointing to Samsung as one of the worst. “It’s a huge leap in imagination to come up with something new,” Stringer said. “That’s what we did.” But Samsung’s lawyers thought differently. In cross examination, Samsung counsel Charles Verhoeven pointed out how Apple’s design team would use lists of specs and design summaries from competitors products to guide their process along. As evidence, he produced an email from Stringer in 2011 requesting a list of all the competing tablets ahead of a brainstorming session. Stringer defended himself by explaining that the goal of the session was to survey the marketplace, not borrow others’ ideas.

For the 15 or 16 people on Apple’s design team, the ultimate mission is clear. “Our job is to imagine products that don’t exist and guide the process that brings them to life,” Stringer explained. “We have our lives all around the products.” Obviously, these things need to be pretty, and when they land on the right look, it’s obvious. “It was the most beautiful of our designs,” String said of the final iPhone design. "When we realized what we got, we knew."

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