WHAT DO YOU THINK IT MEANS TO BE A FUTURE THINKER?
I think the nature of the problems that we are facing is shifting and moving, but I do think one of the constants is the approach that, as designers, we can bring to bear on problems. It’s about being curious and inquisitive, about that love of being surprised, and being wrong, that ‘being light on your feet’, and that curiosity I think; these things have never been more important, more powerful.
WHY DO YOU FOCUS SO MUCH ON DESIGNING THE PHONE OF THE FUTURE, INSTEAD OF ON THE PROBLEMS WE HAVE RIGHT NOW?
Honestly, it is the only thing I could do. I think, being an industrial designer, there’s a sense of service. What we do - we make tools for each other. So the goal, unlike fine art, is not about developing a strong narrative or self-expression; we try and make tools that make life a bit easier. Actually, I think that’s quite noble. I like that idea.
WHEN DID YOU REALISE YOU WANTED TO DESIGN PHONES FOR A LIVING?
Well, essentially when I was at art school in England. it was a time when computer-aided design was being ‘legislated’ and the computers at the college were absolutely terrible. Because of that I, of course, assumed that the problem was with me, that I was technically incapable and inept.
It’s a funny thing - if you eat something that tastes awful, you assume the food’s bad, but when you try to use a product and you cannot, you don’t assume it’s the product, you assume it’s you, don’t you? But then, I came across the Mac and there were a couple of things that were really shocking to me. The first one, (a relief actually more than shocking), was that actually I could do this, it was really straightforward and it was just that the other computers were heinous. But the second thing I remember so clearly, was that for the first time in my life, I had a very clear sense of the people that had got together to design and make that product. I suddenly realised - ‘Oh goodness! Yeah! The stuff that we do testifies to our values, to our preoccupations, the things that we care about. And so it was - from that point, I developed a real interest and intrigue about this group of guys in California. I wanted to find out who did this.
DO YOU HAVE A CLEAR VISION OF WHERE YOU WANT TO GET TO WHEN YOU START DESIGNING SOMETHING, OR DO YOU FIND YOUR WAY THERE ITERATIVELY?
I feel so absurdly lucky to be part of a creative process where on one day, on Tuesday, there’s no idea; we don’t know what we are going to do. There’s nothing. And then, on Wednesday, an idea that has been created. Invariably, the idea is a thought that becomes a conversation. So, the way that we design to start with, is to talk and a remarkable thing happens in the process and it’s the point where there is the greatest change, when we give form to an abstract idea.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE BENEFITS OF A VISION-DRIVEN COMPANY WITH A CLEAR PURPOSE?
Touch is a good example of this because there were 1000 reasons and many occasions when we nearly gave up. That’s what I mean when I talk about this strange ‘inevitability’ thing where you think, ‘Well, of course, the phone makes sense and
gets done’, but we nearly didn’t, because we didn’t know it was going to work. We were working on lots of programmes, and you really hope they’ll work, and you have this very strange balance between being stubborn, (I like to call it being ‘resolute’), but really pushing and pushing an idea, and at the same time realising it might not work and that at some point you have to make that decision and we nearly did on the phone, so that was a very big one.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION OF THE FUTURE?
It is the rate of change, not just in terms of the affording technology, which is remarkable and incredibly stimulating, but it’s the rate of change in terms of expectation, behaviour, and then the implications to society and culture. The change right now is rapid and somewhat intoxicating. It’s not the iPhone 22. It’s people. We make tools for people. That’s why we exist. That’s what drives us. It really is trying to make something to the very best of our abilities that will enable and empower the people that will use our products. It would be concerning if it was just the fascination with the technology. I mean, part of the job of the designer, in many ways, is to provide focus and some goals for technology; but you can have the most incredibly powerful technology that can be completely irrelevant unless it can connect to us in a meaningful and useful way.