What I Read This Week

Imbue, assiduously, and onomatopoeia, this book had no shortage of fifty-cent words.

Recommended by a colleague I recently read Creative Selection written by software engineer Ken Kocienda, who worked at Apple for fifteen years overlapping with Steve Jobs’ return.

Overall, this book strikes a nice balance of summarizing Apple’s design philosophies while also including minute detail on the development of specific projects, namely Safari and the iPad / iPhone keyboards.

Why Demo?

The book opens with a demo Ken is giving to Steve.

Apple’s demo-focused development was apparent in their release day, dating back to the introduction of the Macintosh in 1984, where they feature some incredible demos.

Ken summarizes the five reasons to demo as taught by Apple.

1. Highlight potential

Steve was very involved in the development process, catching the vision to extend beyond what we’ve built to where we can go.

Steve’s focus on delivering intuitive and simple products inspired another blog post “Steve Jobs On Design“.

2. Explore concepts

For every exploration, a decision must follow to continue pursuit or not. Knowing when to double down or abandon a direction is incredibly challenging. When Steve returned to Apple the research, development, and software departments were all silo’d. He merged the groups together to ensure that those researching would also be those implementing the ideas, minimizing the friction to reach the right decisions.

Today’s popular Scrum software framework is a good example of breaking down those silos to include a lot of different perspectives at one table.

3. Show progress

Progress can be hard to quantify. If I say, “I made this pasta better” what does “better” mean? More garlic, less garlic? (the answer is always more)

The idea of demo’ing how software is performing and establishing a common language built on the foundation of a shared visual, is really compelling to quantify improvements.

4. Prompt discussion

Knowing what not to do can be equally important as knowing what to do.

Using a demo to prompt discussion, as opposed to having discussion prompt more discussion, which can lead to long unproductive loops, like a meeting ending with more abstract ideas, and no real value created, really appealed to me.

Having official demos include decision-makers to give specific feedback to inform your next step, iterate, launch, etc. is a level of decisiveness I think more product orgs could benefit from.

However, it’s worth noting that the best discussions are those where psychological safety is present. And although some level of that was present on the teams Ken worked on, it certainly wasn’t when demo’ing to Steve.

Ken describes himself as quite nervous whenever he presented to Steve and goes as far as saying “Respect Steve’s taste, deplore his temperament.”

5. Drive the discussion for making software

“We’ve always tried to be at the intersection of technology and liberal arts, to be able to get the best of both, to make extremely advanced products from a technology point of view, but also have them be intuitive, easy to use, fun to use, so that they really fit the users – the users don’t have to come to them, they come to the user.” – Steve jobs.

Driving the discussion for making software in my mind also translated to giving people creative freedom to be artistic, and to make beautiful software.

Apple took a holistic approach that strikes a stark contrast to the A/B test-crutch product development world today. Apple’s holistic view doesn’t disassemble each piece but approaches the product as a whole.

Apple’s Design Principles

Reflecting on his time, Ken highlights seven principles that he saw throughout the design process: inspiration, collaboration, craft, diligence, decisiveness, taste, and empathy.

All sound nice, but the impact is in the execution.

Safari & iPhone Keyboard

I was absolutely shocked to learn that 10 people worked on Safari before the beta was released. And that 25 people are listed as inventors of the original iPhone. With today’s market dynamics encouraging people to do more with less this sets a new bar.

If you’re knee-deep in building products or went to get an idea of what development at Apple was like this is worth a read. Otherwise, I’m of the opinion that a lot of the online summaries will be sufficient for the major takeaways.

P.S.

Like most of the world, I’m fascinated by ChatGPT. So below, read an AI-generated paragraph summary of the book.

“”Creative Selection: Inside Apple’s Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs” is a book by Ken Kocienda, a former senior software engineer at Apple. The book provides an inside look at the creative process used by Apple during the development of some of its most iconic products, such as the iPhone and iPad. Kocienda shares his personal experiences working on these projects and offers insights into the design philosophy of Steve Jobs and the Apple team. He explains how the company fostered a culture of creativity and innovation, and how it managed to create revolutionary products that changed the way we interact with technology. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in product design, technology and the workings of one of the world’s most iconic companies.”

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