Innovation talk by Doug Field

Yesterday there was an innovation talk by Doug Field, who is VP Product design for Apple.  I attended it.  Surprisingly I could learn things what I didn’t anticipated, and couldn’t learn what hoped.

Okay, so “what I couldn’t learn” part first, for it is first, because it is short.  There was no info about iphone 5.  Somebody asked it, but couldn’t get the answer.  And all audience was told not to take pictures and notes at all to keep secret where there is no secret! Actually I don’t believe that there will be a lot of innovation in iphone 5.  Unless Apple has an UFO technology, the innovation in this fierce competitive field is limited.  Apple did great job when they introduced IPhone first, thus freeing us from the big network provider like At&T, which was really bad at making useful thing and only good at keeping their gate.  But now it is given.  And the company like Google and Samsung is working hard to keep up.  Although I am sure , I will buy another IPhone for the all investment I made in the system, if I were new comer, it will be hard to select if other guy is really cheap.

Anyway, here is “what I learned” part which I think get interesting.  The talk is divided into two part.  Part one is general advice for the career and second part is about working in Apple.  The talk began with the quotation of the Darwin, “the survival of the fittest”.  Doug pointed that there is two preceding condition, which is “mutation” and the “the nature produces more than that can survive”.

For mutation, what he means try to keep diverse interest, which someday somehow can lead to the work he/she do.  A nice example was the music.  Doug played horn and liked music.  That domain expertise came useful when he designed the gear ratio of segway. By designing the gear box ratio to be harmonic, segway can produce pleasant sound.  Another example was perfect symmetrical fan of new Apple laptop, which will produce noise of pleasant tone, rather than white noise tone of asymmetrical fan used in conventional laptop.  So he suggested that we keep our interest open.  As Steve Jobs said “You can never know how the dots will connect before.”

And for the “Nature produces more than that can survive” part, he means failure.  And he suggested we should get used to failure, because without them it is impossible to achieve the great leap.  A famous quote from David Kelly like “Fail fast, to succeed fast” was given.

And here comes the following “Working in the apple” part, which is basically commercial.  He told that what Apple is distinguished from other company for their obsessive, impulsive, pathological adherence to the detail to make something perfect.  I can’t agree more.  I think, at least among the computer makers, they are the only one who really loves their product.  For others, it is a just work to make living.  You know that computers are basically same.  They buy same component from same vendors and manufactures it in the same Chinese factory.  And even for the low priced netbook, it is actually the 3rd party manufactures that makes the variation of the product, and big brands just select one of them, and paste their logo.  However Apple sometimes go to the extreme even silly economical decision to make perfect product like no standard screws.

However their passion remind me the more of the traditional asian value like master craftsmanship.  Today chinese product is regarded as cheap dispensable product.  But historically China has been a world leader for a long time than any other country and it resulted in lots of arts crafts, which the maker put their soul on them.  My favorite example is this ivory sculpture.


I found it at the hotel Treasure Island at Las Vegas.  The note besides it says that it takes so long time to make this sculpture, that there is a generation of family or union of workers working on this.  Think about the craftsman whose job is for all life sculpturing this.   I assume his only motivation was making perfect thing.   It is quite interesting to see the same kind of passion in the consumer electronic product.

But when we think about the volume of the product, their strategy works.  I mean the initial cost of designing can be justified when the cost can be divided by the large quantity.  Everybody wins.  The consumer can have a great product at reasonable price while the company can earn enough to compensate for the R&D.  It explains why Apple makes very few product for their company size.

One good question was when to stop optimization.  Though no silver bullet, his good insight was we should know the fundamentals more.  If a thing is a little better than the previous product, should we stop? No, said Doug.  Maybe when the law of physics or mechanics says, it is theoretically minimum, it will be good place to stop.

And finally, I gave a question for the class of whether apple conduct usability test?  There was a discussion about it.  The answer was yes and no.  But basically ‘No’.  According to Doug, the consumer can tell us what they hate, but they cannot provide solution or even decide which is better solution when given choice .  So they conduct usability test to test previous product or competitor’s product.  But they never ask user what is better iphone 5 design ,showing them 3~4 mockups.  They think it’s designer’s job to find best solution for user, like it’s a doctor’s job to find best treatment for the patients.


2 thoughts on “Innovation talk by Doug Field

  1. Like we discussed in class, you cannot rely on users to create innovation – only to refine interfaces. He said “I won’t say we don’t do usability testing,” but that does not mean they don’t do user-centered design.

  2. RR UXB CH16~17 « intuinno by Deok Gun Park

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