The Invisible Design Behind the Apple Watch’s Many Faces

The Invisible Design Behind the Apple Watch’s Many Faces

On February 10th, 1982, in a room full of designers and engineers drinking champagne and eating cake, Steve Jobs called out the names of Apple’s Macintosh team. And one by one, beginning with motherboard engineer Burrell Smith, they signed their names to a large sheet of paper.

These 47 signatures—some in perfect script, others loopy and illegible, a few just hastily printed—would soon be inscribed on the inside of every Macintosh, etched into the hard plastic case. According to former engineer Andy Hertzfeld, whose signature is on that paper and whose business card during his time at Apple read “Software Wizard,” this was a natural course of events. “Since the Macintosh team were artists,” he wrote on his blog, “it was only appropriate that we sign our work.”

Thirty-three years later, the spirit lives on. Apple’s human-interface chief Alan Dye says that people always ask him what the secret sauce is at Apple, and his answer can seem slightly unsatisfying.

“It’s not that big a secret,” he says. “We have a group of people who are really, really super-talented, but they really care. They care about details that a designer might not show in his portfolio because it’s so arcane. And yet getting it right is so critical to the experience.”

Inside Apple’s design studio, where hardware engineers sit next to software programmers next to graphic designers, there is but one constant character trait: the drill-down, the asking of question after question.

As Dye speaks, he’s flipping through a coffee table book his team made to document some of its process for designing the Apple Watch. The Watch could be Apple’s most important product since the iPad: It’s more than three years in the making, and its aim is nothing short of igniting the market for smartwatches. The stakes are enormous.

Yet what Dye seems most fascinated by is one of the Apple Watch’s faces, called Motion, which you can set to show a flower blooming. Each time you raise your wrist, you’ll see a different color, a different flower. This is not CGI. It’s photography.