What an In­sider Re­veals About Ap­ple’s De­sign Se­crets

Business a.m. - - INNOVATION -

En­trepreneurs who want to repli­cate the recipe that helped Ap­ple be­come the world’s first $1 tril­lion com­pany will find some of the se­cret in­gre­di­ents in a new book by its for­mer prin­ci­pal en­gi­neer. Ken Ko­cienda worked at Ap­ple for 15 years, de­sign­ing soft­ware for the iconic iPhone and other prod­ucts that have be­come pop­u­lar across the globe. In his new book, Cre­ative Se­lec­tion: In­side Ap­ple’s De­sign Process Dur­ing the Golden Age of Steve Jobs, Ko­cienda re­flects on the col­lab­o­ra­tive cul­ture at Ap­ple that helped foster in­no­va­tion and ex­cite­ment for both em­ploy­ees and con­sumers. He vis­ited the Knowl­[email protected]­ton show on Sir­iusXM to talk about his ex­pe­ri­ences and what other com­pa­nies can learn from the magic cre­ated by the late Ap­ple co-founder Steve Jobs. An edited tran­script of the con­ver­sa­tion fol­lows.

Knowl­[email protected]­ton: How do you re­mem­ber Steve Jobs?

Ken Ko­cienda: Steve was very, very fo­cused on cre­at­ing great prod­ucts, and that was my goal while I worked there. So, there was a good align­ment there. Steve cared so much about mak­ing prod­ucts that peo­ple would want to go out and buy in the world. He was the CEO and I was an in­di­vid­ual soft­ware en­gi­neer, but he was in­ter­ested in con­nect­ing with peo­ple like me and see­ing what was in the pipe­line, what was in the de­vel­op­ment labs, what was in the works.

Some­times I would show him the work, and he could be pretty in­tim­i­dat­ing. I think that is kind of well-known out in the world. But he could also be very open to new ideas, sup­port peo­ple like me and help me make the work that would hope­fully please peo­ple, make them go out to the store and even­tu­ally turn Ap­ple into a $1 tril­lion com­pany.

Knowl­[email protected]­ton:

The ti­tle of the book refers in part to Ap­ple’s ap­proach to cre­ativ­ity. What was the mind­set at Ap­ple, and is it still the same to­day?

Ko­cienda: I called the book Cre­ative Se­lec­tion for a rea­son. Be­cause when­ever we had an idea for a soft­ware prod­uct, some new fea­ture — some­one like me would make a demo or a pro­to­type, some­thing that we could try. Not just white board­ing and blue-sky thoughts, but ac­tu­ally mak­ing some­thing con­crete that I could stop some­body in the hall­way and say, “Give this a look. Tell me what you think.”

Even if that first ver­sion wasn’t so good, it was a start­ing point. We could then fig­ure out how to im­prove it, throw out the weak parts, keep the strong. Cre­ative se­lec­tion refers to this Dar­winian process: You start with some­thing and, hope­fully, the end point is go­ing to be a great prod­uct even if the be­gin­nings were hum­ble.

Knowl­[email protected]­ton:

What was the im­por­tance of the soft­ware de­sign in the en­tire process, es­pe­cially when try­ing to make prod­ucts that con­nect with con­sumers?

Ko­cienda: Ap­ple sits at this in­ter­sec­tion where it is look­ing at new hard­ware all of the time, some­times de­vel­op­ing new hard­ware, just keep­ing an eye on where tech­nol­ogy is go­ing. Yet Ap­ple al­ways had this per­spec­tive that tech­nol­ogy by it­self isn’t enough. We wanted to make prod­ucts that were use­ful and mean­ing­ful for peo­ple in their lives, so while peo­ple were hec­tic, bustling around with their ev­ery­day work, they wouldn’t have to spend their con­cen­tra­tion try­ing to fig­ure out how their phone works.

Soft­ware was the glue in the mid­dle, that bridge in the mid­dle be­tween the geeky tech­nol­ogy stuff on the one hand, and hope­fully the use­ful and mean­ing­ful ex­pe­ri­ences on the other. Soft­ware re­ally made that hap­pen.

Knowl­[email protected]­ton:

Au­to­cor­rect is one of the more unique pieces of Ap­ple func­tion­al­ity that you worked on. Take us into the process of de­vel­op­ing that.

Ko­cienda: Au­to­cor­rec­tion turned out to be a crit­i­cal part of the con­cept of the orig­i­nal iPhone. If you think back to smart­phones be­fore the iPhone, you think of the Black­Berry, and it had this hard­ware key­board with the lit­tle plas­tic Chi­clet keys. Peo­ple loved it. They called it the Crack­berry be­cause it was so ad­dic­tive to type out your email mes­sages on the move.

The iPhone was never go­ing to have a key­board like that. The key­board was go­ing to be in soft­ware, pix­els that could get out of the way when you weren’t typ­ing, to open up the de­vice for apps, look­ing at full screen pho­tos, play­ing games and all of the things that we have come to ex­pect from our smart­phones. It be­came my job, through some twists and turns, to de­velop this au­to­cor­rect soft­ware.

To make the key­board soft­ware, you had to type on a sheet of glass. You couldn’t feel the keys with your fin­gers or your thumbs. With au­to­cor­rec­tion, try­ing to take the taps on the screen and fig­ure out what you meant was the real chal­lenge. Again, soft­ware was the way to fill that gap to try to un­der­stand what you did, even though maybe you couldn’t quite tap the keys that you wanted.

If you think about typ­ing a four-let­ter word on a touch­screen, you tap four times and that makes a shape on the screen. Those taps, one after the other, look al­most like a con­stel­la­tion. You think of look­ing up in the sky at the stars, you see just the stars by them­selves, but then we put a pat­tern on top of that. And that is what I did.

I looked at those taps and com­pared them to words in the dic­tio­nary. I said, “You know what, maybe those let­ters that popped up weren’t ex­actly what you wanted, but it kind of looks like a word from the dic­tio­nary.” I tried to match the pat­terns of your taps to the way that dic­tio­nary words would look with their ideal pat­terns. That’s kind of the trick.

Knowl­[email protected]­ton:

What kind of re­ac­tion have you got­ten over the years from con­sumers about au­to­cor­rect? It’s ob­vi­ously im­por­tant, but it can cause frus­tra­tion.

Ko­cienda: Of course, the big­gest com­plaint I’ve got­ten over the years is get­ting in the way of peo­ple’s swear­ing. It’s like, I’m sorry that you are try­ing to type one thing and it turns out to be an­other. The clas­sic ex­am­ple of this is that peo­ple wind up re­fer­ring to wa­ter fowl, duck, in­stead of some other word.

I apol­o­gize to your lis­ten­ers out there for [au­to­cor­rec­tion] get­ting in the way. But look at it this way, I maybe saved you from some em­bar­rass­ing cir­cum­stances. Imag­ine this: You’ve gone on va­ca­tion, you’ve rented a lovely house by the lake and want to text your grandma to tell her about the beau­ti­ful ducks on the pond. Well, if you didn’t type that ex­actly right, you don’t want the au­to­cor­rect to maybe sub­sti­tute the swear word for the lovely view that you are hav­ing of your house on the lake.

That out­lines a lit­tle bit of the chal­lenge that I had. Do I give you the swear word when you didn’t ex­actly type it right, or do we kind of back off and give you some­thing else? Knowl­[email protected]­ton: You say in the book that fear of fail­ure was your big­gest con­cern. Ko­cienda: Oh yes, of course. When­ever you are do­ing some­thing new — again com­par­ing the iPhone to the Black­Berry — when prod­ucts are out of the mar­ket, par­tic­u­larly suc­cess­ful prod­ucts like the Black­Berry, peo­ple be­gin to as­sume that the next thing is just go­ing to be a re­fine­ment of what has come be­fore. You look at some­thing and it is fa­mil­iar.

A lot of times in soft­ware de­vel­op­ment, we use the word in­tu­itive. We say, ‘This soft­ware is in­tu­itive.’ So, putting out a soft­ware key­board where you couldn’t feel the keys re­ally just went against peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions. It wasn’t in­tu­itive right off the bat. It’s one of the rea­sons why we did a QW­ERTY key­board lay­out where the keys are all in the same po­si­tion as they are on your lap­top or desk­top. We ex­per­i­mented with many dif­fer­ent things, but we tried to again bridge that gap, make the phone look as in­tu­itive as pos­si­ble even though that key­board was go­ing to be in soft­ware. Knowl­[email protected]­ton: Is it amaz­ing to you how your role in soft­ware de­vel­op­ment at Ap­ple helped the brand be­come part of the cul­ture?

Ko­cienda: This is grat­i­fy­ing to me. I was an in­di­vid­ual pro­gram­mer, and there are many, many peo­ple in­volved in mak­ing an Ap­ple prod­uct. There was this cul­ture of work­ing hard, ded­i­cat­ing your­self to the work and try­ing to imag­ine (the user’s ex­pe­ri­ence). The idea of em­pa­thy is some­thing that maybe you don’t think about from the out­side world as be­ing a big part of tech­nol­ogy de­vel­op­ment and soft­ware de­vel­op­ment, but it was this cul­ture of think­ing about peo­ple and try­ing to em­pathize with them and their fu­ture ex­pe­ri­ences that they would be hav­ing with the work that we are de­vel­op­ing in the labs. It was a big part of the ethos, the ex­pe­ri­ence of go­ing in ev­ery day, try­ing to get the work done and hit those dates where the ex­ec­u­tives would go out on stage and an­nounce the new prod­ucts.

Knowl­[email protected]­ton:

Em­pa­thy is one word among seven that you high­light as very im­por­tant to the suc­cess of Ap­ple’s soft­ware over the years. Em­pa­thy is an in­ter­est­ing word to use when you are talk­ing about look­ing out­side of the of­fice walls to what peo­ple want to have in a par­tic­u­lar de­vice.

Ko­cienda: As technologists and soft­ware de­sign­ers, we were think­ing about these prod­ucts all day, ev­ery day. We had to imag­ine the ex­pe­ri­ence of peo­ple who want the ben­e­fits of the tech­nol­ogy. They want to send their texts, they want to take their pho­tos and their self­ies, and they want to post them on so­cial net­works. And they all want it to just work.

There are so many el­e­ments that go into mak­ing these ex­pe­ri­ences ac­tu­ally hap­pen, so we had to imag­ine what it would be like for some­one who doesn’t care about the gad­get for the sake of the gad­get but sim­ply wants the ex­pe­ri­ences and then wants to get on with the rest of their lives. This em­pa­thy, this no­tion of putting our­selves in some­body else’s shoes, was a big part of how we thought about it, how we ap­proached our de­sign and de­vel­op­ment work.

Knowl­[email protected]­ton:

You talk in the book about both pres­sures and plea­sures that you had work­ing at Ap­ple. I can imag­ine the pres­sures, but what about the plea­sure side of it?

Ko­cienda: The plea­sure side of it usu­ally came down to see­ing the prod­uct even­tu­ally out in the world. When we talked about the frus­tra­tion some­times that peo­ple feel with au­to­cor­rec­tion, want­ing one thing but hav­ing the soft­ware give you an­other, I un­der­stand that. But there is also the plea­sur­able side for me as a de­signer. I was just in Man­hat­tan re­cently, walk­ing down the street and see­ing peo­ple in Times Square with their iPhones out. They’re tak­ing their self­ies and post­ing them, and then they are typ­ing on that soft­ware key­board.

A fa­vorite ex­am­ple of mine is at the end of air­line flights. Most peo­ple have their smart­phones in air­plane mode while the plane is in the air. But when you land, they take their phones out of their pocket or their bag and type out a text to the per­son maybe wait­ing at bag­gage claim, say­ing, “Hey, I just landed, I’ll see you, I’ll be right there, love you.”

The plea­sure for me is that the first thing they do is look at that soft­ware key­board. From the em­pa­thy stand­point, they are not think­ing about the tech­nol­ogy, they are think­ing about the per­son there that they are go­ing to be meet­ing up with, that they just flew into town to see. For me, the most plea­sur­able as­pect of the work is giv­ing peo­ple these ex­pe­ri­ences en­abled by tech­nol­ogy.

Knowl­[email protected]­ton:

What are the next dis­rup­tions in soft­ware for smart­phones and other per­sonal de­vices?

Ko­cienda: It is very ex­cit­ing to me, not only the phone but the watch, which has re­ally the same soft­ware as your phone. But the Ap­ple Watch has all of these won­der­ful health fea­tures that are now com­ing on­line. Peo­ple are wear­ing this watch on their wrists, and it will be com­mu­ni­cat­ing to their phone in their pocket, and if the watch can sense that your heart rate is maybe slow­ing down or get­ting ir­reg­u­lar, it can no­tify your doc­tor right away. You don’t even need to do any­thing. That could very likely save lives.

Steve cared so much about mak­ing prod­ucts that peo­ple would want to go out and buy in the world

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Nigeria

© PressReader. All rights reserved.