by Lance Somoza
How Jony Ive Masterminded Apple’s New Headquarters ➔

July 26Apple

Christina Passariello from the Wall Street Journal has a great piece centering on Jony Ive and Apple’s new headquarters, Apple Park.

You definitely want to settle in for the long read linked above, but here’s a few highlights.

Throughout the article, Ive compares the planning, design, and creation of Apple Park to the same as any other Apple product, such as:

Ive’s characteristically understated reaction—“It’s nice, though, isn’t it?”—masks the anxiety he feels each time a product he’s designed is about to be introduced to the world. “There’s the same rather strange process you go through when you finish a product and you prepare to release it—it’s the same set of feelings,” says Ive, who turned 50 in February. “That feels, I don’t know, encouragingly healthy, because I would be concerned if we lost that sense of anxiety. I think that would suggest that we were not as self-critical, not as curious, not as inquisitive as we have to be to be able to be effective and do good work.”

On Apple Park being the workplace for future Apple employees:

[…] At the same time, he promises it will be the birthplace of new toys and tools the rest of us haven’t imagined yet. Ive and Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, talk about the campus as something for the next generation of Apple employees—like parents doing estate planning.

This is really well said. Tim, Jony, and other execs clearly are looking towards the future when it comes to Apple Park. Our children will build the next great Apple products in this facility.

Christina goes on to say that Jony essentially needs to prove Apple hasn’t stagnated, saying:

[…] In other technologies, from digital assistants to driverless vehicles to augmented and virtual reality, Apple seems to lag other tech giants, including Google, Amazon and Tesla. Its new voice-activated speaker, HomePod, unveiled in June, will arrive on the market in December, three years after Amazon’s Echo. […]

Queue the tired “Apple is behind everyone” trope, with a surprise appearance from Tesla for some reason.1 Also, I would argue HomePod is a tangential competitor to the Echo, and a direct competitor to Sonos.

Tim Cook on managing Apple’s growth:

“We didn’t plan our growth, and then when we saw our growth, we were so engrossed in trying to push things forward that we didn’t spend time to really develop the workplace,” says Cook. “We’ve done a really good job of working around it, but it’s not the way we want to be working, nor does it represent our culture well.”

I can relate to this. Working for an extremely large, national company, with specialty teams can make for difficult collaboration at times.

A cool note about how the AirPods design was inspired by Stormtroopers:

When J.J. Abrams was working on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ive mentioned that he “would love to see a lightsaber that is rougher, spitting sparks,” Abrams says. The director, who says he and Ive were already fans of each other’s work when they met at a dinner four years ago, applied Ive’s suggestion to character Kylo Ren’s weapon. “His lightsaber was as imperfect and unpredictable as the character,” says Abrams. (The inspiration is mutual: Ive told Abrams that he had the look of the original Stormtroopers in mind when he designed Apple’s earbuds.)

More on architecture as a product from Ive:

Architecture is “a sort of product design; you can talk about it in terms of scale and function and materials, material types,” he says. “I think the delineation is a much, much softer set of boundaries that mark our expertise.”

Mark Newson on design and a token “Apple Car” reference:

“We always joked that one of the greatest sources of our inspiration was the fact that there was just so much stuff out there that we didn’t like,” says Newson. “The negativity sort of became a positive source of inspiration.” Newson says that Ive’s hand could improve a plethora of badly designed products beyond technology, such as cars—though he says he has no idea if Apple is working on a car.”

Apple Park was almost shaped like a fidget spinner:

The desire for light and air, crossed with the need for enough density to house 12,000 employees, gave shape to Apple Park’s main building. Ive, tracing an infinity sign in the air, says they considered complex forms, including a trilobal design, a sort of giant fidget spinner. Ultimately they decided that only a ring shape could give the feeling of being close to the elements.

On the design of work pods:

The first prototype was ready in the summer of 2010, with pictures of trees on either end of the central area to evoke the landscaping and proximity to the outdoors. Jobs himself set the precise dimensions of the openings from one end of the central area to the other. The team quickly discovered that early versions of the small offices on each side of the central area were noisy—sound bounced off the flat wood walls. Foster’s architects suggested perforating the walls with millions of tiny holes and lining them with an absorbent material. In the completed section of workspace, Ive snaps his fingers to demonstrate the warm sound it creates.

I love this quote from Laurene Powell Jobs, because it sounds exactly like something Steve would say:

“The materiality of it is inspiring,” says Powell Jobs. “The quality of the wood, the quality of the stone, the quality of the light—that’s what makes it so beautiful.”

On Apple employees paying for their own food, as opposed to most other large tech organizations which offer it for free:

Apple employees will pay for the food served here, but at a somewhat subsidized rate. “Steve’s philosophy was that when people have skin in the game, they appreciate it more,” says Dan Whisenhunt, Apple’s head of real estate and development.

It’s an interesting philosophy I can see the point of. It’s not like you’re going to choose between Apple and Google solely because of free food, for instance. You would choose Apple because you believe in the culture, mission, and passion.

On the importance of employees being physically together:

Ive and Cook place great importance on employees being physically together at work—ironic for a company that has created devices that enable people to work from a distance. Face-to-face communication is essential during the beginning of a project, when an idea is sprouting, they say. Once a model emerges from a series of conversations, it draws people in and gives focus. “For all of the beauty of technology and all the things we’ve helped facilitate over the years, nothing yet replaces human interaction,” says Cook, “and I don’t think it will ever happen.”

Again, I can relate to this professionally. While technology allows us to work from anywhere, meeting in person or by random happenstance almost always makes for better progress.

On the workspaces being more open and less confined:

The thousands of employees at Apple Park will need to bend slightly to Ive’s vision of the workplace. Many will be seated in open space, not the small offices they’re used to. Coders and programmers are concerned that their work surroundings will be too noisy and distracting. Whiteboards—synonymous with Silicon Valley brainstorming—are built into floor-to-ceiling sliding doors in the central area of each pod, but “some of the engineers are freaking out” that it isn’t enough, says Whisenhunt. iPhones will be the primary mode of communication for everyone, though individuals can also lobby for a desk phone, if they feel they have a need for one.

Going from an office to open space will probably be a little shocking, and some might not be able to adjust, but adaptation will be key.

On Apple supposedly contributing to a tree shortage:

Ive takes offense at the idea that he hasn’t already thought of every detail during the years of planning Apple Park. He scoffs at an article claiming that Apple contributed to a tree shortage in the Bay Area by buying up so many plants for the campus, “as if we’d got to the end of our project and we thought, Oh, we’d better plant some trees.” Apple began working with an arborist years ago to source trees, including varieties that once made up the bountiful orchards of Silicon Valley; more than 9,000, many of them drought-resistant, will have been planted by the time the campus is finished.

On Ive getting back to normal work after Apple Park is fully up and running:

In the next few months, Ive will transition from being the creator of Apple Park to one of its thousands of users. His design team is scheduled to be one of the last to move into the new headquarters this fall—around the same time as the event at which Apple has typically unveiled its new iPhone. The next frontier Ive faces, beyond reinventing a greatest hit, is how to further embed technology onto our bodies and into our homes, using devices such as the Apple Watch, AirPods and HomePods as the beachheads for collecting data and tracking ourselves. “Everything we design and make in the future is going to start right here,” he says.

With each new product Apple rolls out, its predecessors seem a little antiquated. But Ive and Jobs built Apple Park to last, and their legacy will be etched into the glass, concrete and trees for decades to come. Just as the ring blurs the boundary between inside and outside, Ive’s personal and professional lives are fluid. As a designer, “you spend so much time living in or living with the solution that doesn’t yet exist,” he says. “I’m just looking forward to going to see an engineer I’m working with on something, to sit there and perhaps walk out and sit outside for a bit with him, to be able to go to the workshop and start to see how we’re building something.”

Ive’s longevity at Apple has been questioned a bit in the past couple years, with his promotion to Chief Design Officer. Subsequently, this allowed for the shedding of his managerial duties through the appointment of Alan Dye and Richard Howarth to the positions of VP, User Interface Design and VP, Industrial Design respectively. It was also speculated that he wanted to return to the U.K. in a larger capacity.

Ive is still a large part of Apple, and judging by the last two paragraphs, it sounds like he has a renewed focus to get back to his other design work, thanks to the new campus.

  1. If Christina means a car, then it goes without saying that Apple is behind the entire automotive industry, not just Tesla. ↩︎


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