There's no question about it: Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) has always set the bar high, and it continues to do so. While Apple's design values themselves really aren't a mystery, Apple's high level of secrecy has kept the doors closed to understanding exactly how these values are implemented during product design. But thanks to a first-rate Wired interview by Kyle Vanhemert with former Apple engineer Jesse Dorogusker, we can analyze what is likely a glimpse of these values in action.
You can bet that with eight years at Apple as a head engineer in the accessories division on his resume, Jesse Dorogusker, Square's vice president of hardware, has picked up a few values from Apple. The design process that goes into Square's new Square Reader certainly isn't as complex as the process behind the design of an iPad, but it's enough to portray numerous timeless values that Apple has held to for decades. I've categorized some of Dorogusker's Apple-like design tendencies to get a better understanding of the process.
After his team's work was done, Dorogusker managed to not only improve the function of the credit card reader, but also to reduce its thickness by 45%. Dorogusker explained that the new design got rid of its bulky "shoulders."
Apple has always appreciated sleek designs. The 2012 redesign of its iMac is a great example. The new design shaved a whopping 40% of its predecessor's volume and reduced its edges to just 5 mm.
Then, of course, there's the new iPad Air -- which Apple boasts has the width of a pencil.
Vanhemert observed of Dorogusker's relentless pursuit to minimize the space required underneath what consumers see: "In this unseen world, every millimeter shaved is a victory."
Even in a card reader, the experience is extremely important, according to Dorogusker. The feel of the swipe, Dorogusker explained, gives users a sense of trustworthiness.
Apple has always built around the experience. The company boasts record customer satisfaction in nearly every product category. In PCs, Apple has topped the American Customer Satisfaction Index for nearly a decade straight.
In an Apple-like fashion, Dorogusker had to oust some off-the-shelf parts and opt to custom-build them in-house to achieve the design standard his team was aiming for.
Among other parts, one of the greater challenges was an undertaking to design a custom chip for the Reader. Vanhemert described the feat:
"It's not typical for a start-up to do that," Dorogusker says. '"t's a little bit of upfront cost to build this from scratch." But the benefits were huge. After all, this tiny fleck is the brains of the operation. And by building their own chip, Square was able to improve several aspects of the product -- its performance, its size, and its overall reliability -- in one stroke.
Of course, Apple, too, is known for its vertical integration -- particularly in chip design more recently.
One of the major benefits of vertical integration? It empowers the design to challenge the status quo. "Developing custom components gave Square's hardware team a chance to rethink how the device was assembled, too," said Vanhemert. "The custom build also helped with size; off-the-shelf read heads are five millimeters plus; Square's own is just two-and-a-half."
Tying the values together, there's a sense that Dorogusker was driven by a zeal for perfection. The experience had to be perfect. That required rethinking nearly everything about the Reader. In-house design became a necessity.
Are there really benefits to aiming for perfection in a simple credit card reader? Absolutely. Speaking of the satisfying feel of a solid swipe and the Reader's consistent accuracy, Vanhemert explained the impact on the consumer: "Those two factors help convey something in the moment about Square itself: That the company is trustworthy, rock solid, and easy."
Apple's enduring culture
Though none of these values is a surprise to anyone who follows Apple closely, Dorogusker's illustration of the values in the design process of a simple card reader shows just how meticulous Apple engineers are in glorifying them.
Apple continues to live by these values today. If Apple's products don't speak loudly enough, listen to Apple CEO Tim Cook's recent words in a Bloomberg Businessweek interview:
We're a product company, and so the products show the values of a company. They speak to innovation. They speak to caring about every detail. They're a reminder of how incredibly important experience is, so when you begin to use 7 or you begin to use the fingerprint sensor here ... every detail has been thought through. The experience is an "Aha" moment.
It's these design values and Apple's irrefutable commitment to them that have helped Apple become the world's most valuable publicly traded company. It's this culture of excellence that has endured so purely in Dorogusker's new Square Reader that suggest Apple can continue to deliver blockbuster products for years to come.
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