How Limitation Breeds Innovation

The method of Jony Ive’s madness

Apple makes beautiful hardware. They’re not the only ones, as Leica, Huawei, Bang & Olufsen, Tesla, and even Microsoft are now putting beautifully-designed hardware front and centre in their businesses.

But only Apple has truly “bleeding edge” design — design that makes serious sacrifices, often in performance and/or cost, in the name of form.

Clearly this makes some people unhappy; there is a growing feeling that an iPhone that was a bit thicker (e.g. 9mm vs. 7.1mm) but had a truly all-day battery would be an appropriate trade-off to make. But this is something Apple would never do, as it is only by limiting themselves via design that they force innovation into their product line.

Design is being used as a tool. If we simply allowed phones to be a bit thicker, just this once, then the impetus to improve battery technology diminishes. By enforcing a strict adherence to improving every facet of the product, the technology that enables that develops at a much greater pace.

Even Apple can mis-step though, and the new iMacs are a great example of this. By enforcing an incredibly tight form-factor, they have been forced to use 5400 RPM platter drives in the base model, no SSD, and no 7200 RPM drive. This is a significant mis-step, and the performance dip in the base model makes it a no-go for any serious user.

Finally, what can we learn from this approach? Clearly it’s not without risk, but by setting high standards for design and iterative improvement, and having an unforgiving attitude, you can drive innovation throughout your business, and your entire supply chain. Well, at least if you have the kind of influence that Apple does.