Creative Selection – by Ken Kocienda

A lovely set of anecdotes and a little peek into the software development methodology of Steve Jobs' Apple. Blast to read, both speed-wise and emotionally. If you are into Apple and write software of any of their platform — recommended.

Highlights

Inspiration: Thinking big ideas and imagining what might be possible Collaboration: Working together well with other people and seeking to combine your complementary strengths Craft: Applying skill to achieve high-quality results and always striving to do better Diligence: Doing the necessary grunt work and never resorting to shortcuts or half measures Decisiveness: Making tough choices and refusing to delay or procrastinate Taste: Developing a refined sense of judgment and finding the balance that produces a pleasing and integrated whole Empathy: Trying to see the world from other people’s perspectives and creating work that fits into their lives and adapts to their needs.

[…] backlots, the semipermanent outdoor locations movie studios maintain […]

Valle Millinery Shop, an enticing-looking storefront with several fashionable women’s hats on display. Of course, this wasn’t a real or there might have been a studio office through the “shop”

[…] significant part of attaining excellence in any field is closing the gap between the accidental and intentional, to achieve not just a something or even an everything but a specific and well-chosen thing, to take words and turn them into a vision, and then use the vision to spur the actions that create the results.

Although I was stuck and they were skillful, my state of mind was also important in how our meeting played out. If I had reached out for help earlier, I might have felt more defensive in such a technical review with my colleagues. I have pride in my craft and in my ability to solve hard problems, and although I always think of myself as being willing to collaborate, that doesn’t always come across as clearly as it might. If I hadn’t been so desperately stuck, I might not have been as open to the advice Darin and Trey offered, and I might have signaled this in subtle ways.

Williams asked Steve where he “fit in the American family of thinkers and inventors.” At first, Steve attempted to brush off the question, but when Williams pressed him, Steve said: “I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.”

Every major feature on the iPhone started as a demo, and for a demo to be useful to us, it had to be concrete and specific.

Making a succession of demos was the core of the process of taking an idea from the intangible to the tangible. Making demos is hard. It involves overcoming apprehensions about committing time and effort to an idea that you aren’t sure is right. At Apple, we then had to expose that idea and demo to the scrutiny of sharp-eyed colleagues who were never afraid to level pointed criticism. The psychological hurdle only grows taller with the knowledge that most demos—almost all of them—fail in the absolute, dead-end sense of the word.

Over time, I came to the conclusion that designing an excellent user experience was as much about preventing negative experiences as facilitating positive ones. It couldn’t be an even trade-off either. Great products make people happy almost all the time and do the opposite rarely, if at all. This worried me because, as matters stood, my derby-winning keyboard might wipe the smile off someone’s face on International Talk Like a Pirate Day. On that holiday, my keyboard had to deliver on Arrr!, not cause people to give up in frustration, exclaiming “Argh!”

I described empathy as trying to see the world from other people’s perspectives and creating work that fits into their lives and adapts to their needs. Empathy is a crucial part of making great products.

Convergence was the term we used to describe the final phase of making an Apple product, […]

Don Melton often told a story about convergence at Netscape. When his old company was getting ready to ship versions of the Navigator web browser, the goal wasn’t zero bugs. Netscape’s engineering leaders knew that no sophisticated piece of software was ever truly devoid of defects. Instead, they shot for zarro boogs, an intentional mispronunciation of “zero bugs.” It was a humorous recognition that they were calling their project “finished” on the ship date, not that they had actually achieved the unattainable ideal of fault-free code, regardless of what a bug database query or a convergence graph might have shown them.

The concrete and specific demos I described in chapter 6 were catalysts for creative decisions. They forced us to make judgments about what was good, what needed changes or improvements, and what should be deleted. We habitually converged on demos, then we allowed demo feedback to cause a fresh divergence, one that we immediately sought to close for the follow-on demo.

Scott’s game gave us the answer we were looking for. The tap targets for home screen icons on the original iPhone were fifty-seven pixels square.

Determining comfort levels, pursuing smoothness, and reducing mental load are examples of the kinds of ergonomic, perceptual, and psychological effects we often aimed for, and in each case, honing and tuning technology to a high level became the means to achieve people-centered results.

Charged Buttons: The actual geometry for the back button in the top navigation bar is too small to tap comfortably, so the button is charged, which means the active area the software recognizes for tapping is larger than the visual area for the button.

I refer you to United States Patent 7,479,949, sometimes called the ’949 Patent when dealing with Apple lawyers, or just the iPhone Patent when not. Its formal title is Touch Screen Device, Method, and Graphical User Interface for Determining Commands by Applying Heuristics.7 This document is Apple’s official statement on the novel software features and functions on the original iPhone, a 358-page patent that is dense with diagrams, embodiments, and claims.

At Apple, we never considered the notion of an algorithmically correct color. We used demos to pick colors and animation timings, and we put our faith in our sense of taste. When we went looking for the right “finger movement in accordance with a rule,” as mentioned in the excerpt I included from the ’949 Patent, we made a subjective call. We developed heuristics.

Why do some products, like the iPhone, turn out as well as they do? I’m now ready to offer my complete answer. It comes in three parts.

The first part is the demo-making creative selection process. Adding it to the concept of working at the intersection, I can enhance my description of how we created variations as we developed a product.

The second part of my answer goes back to the introduction, where I first mentioned the seven essential elements of the Apple development approach. By now I hope you can see how essential they were and how they provided us with the raw material for creative selection. Here’s the full list of the seven essential elements again, and this time, I’ve supplemented them with specific examples drawn from my stories: 

  1. Inspiration, which means thinking big ideas and imagining about what might be possible, as when Imran saw how smooth finger tracking would be the key to people connecting to iPhone experiences through touch 

  2. Collaboration, which means working together well with other people and seeking to combine your complementary strengths, as when Darin and Trey helped me make the insertion point move correctly in WebKit word processing 

  3. Craft, which means applying skill to achieve high-quality results and always striving to do better, as when the Safari team made the web browser faster and faster by running the Page Load Test, trying to understand what this test program told us about our software, and using these findings to optimizing our code 

  4. Diligence, which means doing the necessary grunt work and never resorting to shortcuts or half measures, as when we persisted through the tedium of fixing cross-references to get Safari to build in the lead-up to the Black Slab Encounter 

  5. Decisiveness, which means making tough choices and refusing to delay or procrastinate, as when Steve Jobs made me pick the better keyboard layout for the iPad on the spot while he waited rather than just offering the two different designs Bas and I developed Taste, which means developing a refined sense of judgment and finding the balance that produces a pleasing and integrated whole, as when we made the choice to offer a QWERTY keyboard layout for the iPhone 

  6. Empathy, which means trying to see the world from other people’s perspectives and creating work that fits into their lives and adapts to their needs, as when Scott Herz made a game to find the best size for touch targets so it was comfortable to tap the iPhone display and accommodated people with varying levels of dexterity

Everything counts. No detail is too small.

This brings me to the third part of my answer. After creative selection and the seven essential elements, we needed one more intersection to make great work: a combination of people and commitment. Creative selection and the seven essential elements were our most important product development ingredients, but it took committed people to breathe life into these concepts and transform them into a culture.

There was a pragmatic management philosophy at play here, which started from Steve on down. Our leaders wanted high-quality results, and they set the constraint that they wanted to interact directly with the people doing the work, creating the demos, and so on.

A small group of passionate, talented, imaginative, ingenious, ever-curious people built a work culture based on applying their inspiration and collaboration with diligence, craft, decisiveness, taste, and empathy and, through a lengthy progression of demo-feedback sessions, repeatedly tuned and optimized heuristics and algorithms, persisted through doubts and setbacks, selected the most promising bits of progress at every step, all with the goal of creating the best products possible.

What exactly is a scrunch? I used the word to describe the gesture where you move your fingers on the screen in a grasping motion, as if the app you were using was a piece of paper and you were crumbling it up to throw it into a wastebasket. You know, a scrunch.