Apple's goal is not to make money, but to make good products, said Jonathan Ive, senior vice president of industrial design at Apple, speaking at the British Embassy's Creative Summit.
"We are really pleased with our revenues but our goal isn't to make money. It sounds a little flippant, but it's the truth. Our goal and what makes us excited is to make great products. If we are successful people will like them and if we are operationally competent, we will make money," he said.
He explained how, in the 90s, Apple was very close to bankruptcy and that "you learn a lot about vital corporations through non-vital corporations". When Steve Jobs returned to the company in 1997, his focus was not on making money -- "His observation was that the products weren't good enough. His resolve was to make better products." This was a different approach from other attempts to turn the company around, which had focused first and foremost on cost savings and revenue generation.
"I refute that design is important. Design is a prerequisite. Good design -- innovation -- is really hard," said Ive, explaining how it is possible to be both a craftsperson and a mass manufacturer with discipline and focus. "We say no to a lot of things that we want to do and are intrigued by so that we only work on a manageable amount of products and can invest an incredible amount of care on each of them."
He talked about artist Augustus Pugin, who famously rallied against mass production during the industrial revolution. "Pugin felt there was a godlessness in making things in volume. He was completely wrong. You can make one chair carelessly, thoughtlessly, that is valueless. Or you can make a phone [that will eventually go on to be mass produced] and invest so many years of care and have so many people so driven to make the very best phone way beyond any sort of functional imperative that there is incredible value."
He said: "Really great design is hard. Good is the enemy of great. Competent design is not too much of a stretch. But if you are trying to do something new, you have challenges on so many axes."
Ive added that he "can't describe" how excited he still feels to be part of the creative process. "To me I still think it's remarkable that at a point in time on a Tuesday afternoon there isn't an idea and then suddenly later on there is an idea. Invariably they start as a tentative, barely-formed thought that becomes a conversation between a couple of people."
Apple then builds a prototype that embodies the idea and that's when the idea goes through "the most incredible transition". "You go from something tentative and exclusive to something tangible and -- by nature of it being a thing -- a table of people can sit around it and start to understand it; it becomes inclusive and it galvanises and points to a direction for effort."
Ive closed by reiterating the Apple mantra that "we don't do market research". "It will guarantee mediocrity and will only work out whether you are going to offend anyone." He said it is a designer's responsibility to understand potential opportunities and be familiar and fluent with technologies that could enable the creation of products that fit with those opportunities.