What can we learn from the reveal that Apple has hired a man who’s worked in the automotive industry for nearly 30 years to work on its autonomous electric car? It’s that we should value experience in product design.
Doug Betts has worked for Michelin, Toyota, Nissan and Chrysler Group where he was in charge of product and service quality. He’s said to be one of several hires at Apple directly from the automotive industry as well as Tesla since the electric car project was announced last year. In fact, Project Titan is headed by a product designer who worked at Ford, Steve Zadesky.
People might think that Apple have all the product know-how they need inhouse. After all, this is the company that redefined how consumers interact with handheld technology and created a symbiotic relationship between satisfying tech and aesthetic.
Yet as they explore and expand into a new sector, Apple is reflecting possibly on the limitations of its knowledge. Zadesky was part of the team that developed the iPod and the iPhone so he’s the ideal bridge between car design and manufacture and the Apple ideology when it comes to product design. Other automotive engineers and designers can marry their expertise and level of experience in car manufacturing and feed it into. Many car manufacturers have already ventured into the electric car market so it’s not as though Apple are without competition. They’re also going to be closely scrutinized; an electric car made by a company that specializes in computing has potential dud written all over it. So there’s pressure that Apple has to get it right.
It’s an exciting prospect for anyone working in car manufacture; especially in America where the major car company, General Motors, has taken a hammering financially over the past decade. Taking all that knowledge and expertise from a lifetime in car product design and bring it to one of the most innovative product design companies there are? That has to be a challenge any product designer can aspire to and embrace.
There’s also another factor, the benefit of experience. When we think of Apple many probably think of twenty-somethings exploring the new cutting-edge ideas. The fact that this isn’t the case and Apple clearly has a great deal of respect for those who’ve spent a career int he industry illustrates that product design never works in isolation, and innovation doesn’t involve only looking forward. It’s vital to bring that level of understanding and expertise that comes from working with a product day in and day out. Apple’s bringing together a team of experts for Project Titan, it’ll be fascinating to see what they build.