Creative Selection – Inside Apple’s Design Process During the Golden Age


A former principal engineer at Apple who developed the touchscreen for the iPhone offers his insights on the use interface of digital products, customer experience, and software development

Creative Selection - Inside Apple's Design Process During the Golden Age

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Creative Selection

Steve Jobs is a business icon whose influence beyond his company Apple is still felt today. Much was written about him and his legacy after his death, and since Jobs’ passing Apple has transitioned into a new era under current CEO Tim Cook. With all the attention Jobs received, I find it fascinating to hear about the experiences about other role players in Apple’s history.

One book that shed a light on Apple’s process is Creative Selection: Inside Apple’s Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs. The book is written by Ken Kocienda, a former principal engineer at Apple who developed the touchscreen for “Purple”, a skunkworks project better known to the world as the iPhone.

I received a review copy from the publisher and was inspired by the intriguing teamwork history shared. I feel it is a terrific guide that can inform small teams working on the interfaces for software or smart device development.

What Is Creative Selection About?

The book delves into the development process through the viewpoint of Kocienda’s career history with the Apple teams and of course Steve Jobs. The book emphasizes the symbiotic relationship of software, user experience, and product development.

There are the requisite nods to Jobs’ leadership style, such as the legendary reality distortion field. Yet anyone well familiar with Jobs’ history will gain a more nuanced insider viewpoint of managing self-autonomy with software development.

A few conceptual inspirations besides Jobs are sprinkled through the book, such as Thomas Edison’s search for a lightbulb filament to Vince Lombardi’s A few sketchings highlight the user experience concerns Kocienda faced.  All of these inspirations can come together to fill the gaps in what a team does not know starting out. Kocienda explains:

“Making demos is hard. It involves overcoming apprehensions about committing time and effort to an idea that you aren’t sure is right. At Apple we had to expose those ideas and demo to the scrutiny of sharp-eyed colleagues who were never afraid to level pointed criticism.”

In fact, Kocienda named his book as a play on Darwin’s famous principle because of how the fittest device features survived Apple’s vetting process during development. Apple has been well known to vet each stage of a design to simply feature functionality as well as to achieve design elegance.

What I liked about Creative Selection

I think Kocienda explains the idea without turning the discussion into a textbook. He also explains the merits of scrum or agile development. Credit his experiences for that benefit. Kocienda’s bio shows he worked on motorcycles. He taught English in Japan. And he made fine art photographs. But all this happened before his 15 year Apple career. That variety of experiences make managers well versed. It improves the ability to offer a crystal clear explanation of value. It shows in Kocienda’s appreciation for creativity with software development, and the reader benefits from the window Kocienda gives into the developer’s experiences.

For example, Kocienda explains the value of an insertion point. This refers to the blinking cursor you’d see as you are inserting text. Consider two design protocols, the Simple Rule and the Complicated Rule. In another example, look at the chapter entitled Convergence. It contains a drawing of the ideal pattern from keyboard typing. And it looks at how this influences the algorithm suggestion for autocorrection code. An explanatory point about touchpoint proves really cool. And read this cool explanation on heuristics:

“Algorithms produce quantifiable results….Heuristics also have a measurement or value associated with them – the duration for an animation or the red-green-blue values for an onscreen color, but there isn’t a similar “arrow of improvement” that always points the same way. Unlike evaluation algorithms, heuristics are harder to nail down. For instance, how quickly should a scrolling list guide to a stop after you’ve flicked it?”

What Books to Read with Creative Selection

The book offers a great complement to others about entrepreneurial lessons. For example, consider Blesky’s The Messy Middle or Bob Taylor book Guitar Lessons. This second book examines the history of the Fender guitar company and the guitar industry. But Creative Selection best pairs with any technical book on user experience design.  Kocienda draws inspiration from a Jobs 2003 New York Times interview. And he drives the point of viewing design as more than appearance:

“Product design should strive for a depth, for a beauty rooted in what a product does, not merely in how it looks and feels….Objects should explain themselves.”

Why Creative Selection

Not Your Standard Business Book

Kocienda’s book doesn’t fit the mold of a standard business book. But Kocienda’s takes on design are important reads. Every company today redefines itself through software in one form or another. Interfaces now influence more traditional products such as automobiles. This triggers more debates about how to get the details right. Read Creative Selection to refine the insights your team can bring. Consider them when developing an app, chatbot, or voice-enabled device.

Development teams and project managers oversee small businesses and startups. And they find technical books on specific design principles more practical for a given exercise. But consider aspirational teams or project managers. Creative Selection can prove essential reading for a long play in developing the best products for customers.

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Pierre DeBois Pierre Debois is Associate Book Editor for Small Business Trends. He is the Founder of Zimana, a consultancy providing strategic analysis to small and medium sized businesses that rely on web analytics data. A Gary, Indiana native, Pierre is currently based in Brooklyn. He blogs about marketing, finance, social media, and analytics at Zimana blog.