Jony Ive and the moral purpose of design

It’s Apple Watch week with Monday’s event approaching rapidly and many eager to see just what the final details will be.* And the Jony Ive press tour continues. (Has Apple ever granted this much access to Ive or any of its top people? This is a new era of openness in Tim Cook’s Apple.) Here’s a profile in The Financial Times and a bit about Ive’s view of the big picture of design?

I would hazard a wild guess that 19th-century neogothic ecclesiastical architect and designer Augustus Pugin is not frequently discussed in Cupertino, but Ive invokes his name to discuss the moral purpose of design. He chooses his words carefully. “This is difficult to describe and it could be misinterpreted very easily, but there is a sense of almost serving your fellow humans. While people might not be able to articulate why they care and why they prefer one thing over the other, I really think that most people are very discerning.”

Some may take it as self-serving or hollow or PR, but I take his claims of serving humanity with design and with Apple’s creations as wholly sincere. And refreshing. Of all companies, Apple can most likely claim adherence to a standard beyond mere market economics and pursuit of profits. Maybe it’s easy to proclaim such lofty motivation if you represent the richest company in the history of the world.

It does seem the leadership at Apple are uniquely obsessed with making truly great products, products that offer remarkable value to their customers. And, yes, they make a lot of money by selling those products. But that is likely the key to their success. Focus obsessively on the creation and continual refinement of transformative products and trust that the humans they’re designed for will respond with delight and with a willingness to pay a premium for designs that resonate, whether those humans know exactly why or not.

What’s the gift we can give in our work? How can what we create and the experiences we deliver serve a meaningful purpose beyond putting food on our tables and paying our bills?

If you consider your work as a way to serve humanity, to make life even a little better for someone, you can transform a mere job into a calling. Tasks you previously took for granted, or undertook half-heartedly, become almost sacred and imbued with new energy when you instead see them as part of your gift to the universe, your legacy in the service of humanity. And your work likely will rise to new levels of excellence and accomplishment.

*I haven’t worn a watch since 2008. I’m assuming I don’t want an Apple Watch. But I’m also smitten by delightful technology. I’m a pushover for uniquely great things. I will be intrigued to see how this new device is being pitched to a generation that doesn’t see a watch as a necessity any longer.