Designing and Making

One of the reasons for Apple’s success in the years when they invented breakthrough products like the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad, was the way they created their products. At the heart of the design process was the design studio where lots of models and prototypes of everything the team had in the works would always be on display. As Walter Isaacson describes in his biography of Steve Jobs, always being able to see the current state of the designs allowed Apple’s CEO and his chief design officer Jony Ive to see and feel a model and also see things in relationship to each other. Not only did they design the products as such, but they also constantly invented tools and experimented with processes that would make new solutions at the often-quoted intersection of technology and liberal arts possible. Walking through the studio, you would see CAD workstations, molding machines to create foam models, and a robot-controlled spray-painting chamber to make the models look more real. In close exchange with engineering, the design team was constantly making tangible things. This way, the team was able to better assess the quality of a design, refine it down to its essence, and work on the details that make a product stand out.

Designing and making really should be inseparable.

Jony Ive

The whole studio was built around the idea that designing and making should be inseparable. An idea that Jony Ive and the designers at Apple shared with other industrial designers, like Charles and Ray Eames, for example. In such an environment, the design isn’t created merely based on groupthink or by ticking off checklists of required features. By making designing and making inseparable, the designers form the product in a constant conversation with creatie ideas, materials, and constraints. They give the product room to evolve and themselves the permission to learn and grow.

Now think about how you are designing your products. If you work in a company that is a bit like many I’ve seen over the years, chances are that designing and making are sharply separated, especially if you are designing digital products. Contrary to what is being preached and how many innovative people already work, many teams still work in silos. A concept team might create requirements, a sitemap, and wireframes. The design team might design static images aka layouts (albeit in different screen sizes). And the developers then build the product based on all those specifications. I’ve written in detail about this before, but I still don’t see a lot of change happening, except for everyone now working with components and pattern libraries – which is indeed a kind of progress. But are designers really making tangible things? So few of them are working with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, the material the Web is made of. So few of them are building interactive prototypes, although we have a wealth of tools that now come with powerful prototyping capabilities. But most importantly, the whole process does still not honor the fact that designing and making should be inseparable.

Have you ever watched a child having an idea and manically getting to work to make it come alive? They don’t care about the medium. They don’t care if making something requires a drawing, written text, singing, or dirt from the garden. They just make. How about we re-learn to do that, too? So instead of starting with a visual layout, or how something looks, why not start with making something?


This is the tenth post of my 100 days of writing series. You can find a list of all posts here.


20 Webmentions

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Tom Hermans????;
Matthias is always one of my to read resources, and now he's not only writing day after day, he hits it out of the park with this one as well. Read and follow.
Photo of Tom Hermans????;
Tom Hermans????;
Matthias is always one of my to read resources, and now he's not only writing day after day, he hits it out of the park with this one as well. Read and follow.
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