Interaction Design or Industrial Design:Interview with Freddy Anzures

  • Update:2010-01-15
Interaction Design or Industrial Design:Interview with Freddy Anzures,Designer of Apple Computer Inc.
W: Because you study industrial design, how do you like working in industrial design or interaction design? You like it or just do it after you graduated?
M: So there are different types of designers, industrial design, graphic design, interaction design, you put a word and then say designers. My idea is that it should just be design. It shouldn’t be specialized. When I studied industrial design, it was making objects, and you interact with those objects. For instance, this cup, the interface of this cup is this handle, right? My hand is interfacing with this.
W: Yeah, I agree.
M: It’s not a digital screen, but it’s about how can you be sensitive to how you are interacting with something else, whether it’s a product ,a computer, or a poster. I think design has to do with being sensitive to interacting with something else. Everything is interaction design. To answer the question of how did I get into interaction design from industrial design, I can talk a little bit about my history at first. When I was in Carnegie Mellon, I was in industrial design major. I got my degree in industrial design in 1999. After graduated, I didn’t want to do just industrial design for a job.
W: That time was just after graduated?
M: Yeah. I was very interested in working for either company or consultancy that had all types of design, like a multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary company.
W: So you have this kind of thinking in your study?
M: Yeah, in school. I had classmates just wanted to do cars, house wares, and this stuff. But I wanted to be involved in everything. It’s more fun because there is a possibility that everything is equal, or consistent. When I graduated in 1999, I worked at Frog design.
W: For industrial design that time, right?
M: Actually, no. I got hired into the digital media group. I had never done websites or digital media. So when you asked the question of how did I get into interaction design from industrial design, it really started when I graduated in 1999 and got a job at Frog in the digital media design group. So, the question is that how did that happen. The creative director from Frog design San Francisco, came to Carnegie Mellon to interview people. In 1999, I don’t know if it was going on in Beijing or China as much, but it was very big dot-com, and everybody was very busy doing e-commerce, websites, and kind of thing.
W: Maybe a little later in China.
M: Yeah. So, it was a very big push to get people to do that kind of work. Before I graduated, I had an internship by the Converse, a foot ware, or a shoe company.
W: Converse, we call it Kuang Wei.
M: Ok, yeah. So I interned there for six months. For the first three months I did shoe design, and then the last three months I ended up doing a brand design proposal for the company. In the first   three month, Converse wasn’t doing so well. I felt that I was not benefitting in the company by doing shoes. Their real problem was that their branding wasn’t good. They were trying to compete with NIKE, who you know like for being performance brand, but Converse was like a historical, American, heritage brand. So after three month of designing shoes, I told my boss that I was an intern. I told the intern manager at the time “I don’t want to design shoes anymore, because this is not your problem. Your problem is with branding, so I want to take the last three months to do branding proposal for you.” He said “OK”, and basically told me to go into the archives of the company and see all of the advertisements since the company has started in 1908, so that I can understand the brand. At the end of the three months, I wrote a proposal and did a presentation of what I thought the logo and the brand should be in a big meeting room with all of these big executive people. One guy at the front of the table asked “So do you have a job after school?” I said “I still have one more year to go” I ended up taking one year off between my third and fourth year. Because I didn’t think I had enough experience in what I really know to do after graduating. OK, go back to presenting this brand thing. That guy said “Well, once you graduate, you have a job here.” And then, I asked my intern manager “who said that?” He said “That was the president of the company.” It was 1997, when I was only twenty one. After the internship, I went back to Carnegie Mellon for one year, and then finished it. When I went back, I won a nationwide house wares award. That’s a humidifier I redesigned in my third year. It was nice to win an award, but I still didn’t want to do industrial design. I wanted to do something different. When I graduated, Frog visited Carnegie Mellon. They were hiring for the digital media group, because a lot of that dot-com and that e-commerce stuff was going on. I was like “let me try that, because I have never done that before, and I like to challenge myself.” So I made a proposal, which is like “I’ll spend a year to learn digital media design at Frog, but after a year I would like to do projects that will use some of my industrial design skills.” Saying, I want to work on industrial design projects with digital media components, so products will screen on it. I wanted to do what was called conversion projects. The creative director was very impressed with my work, so he hired me. I went to San Francisco and worked at Frog for five years.
W: A long time.
M: Yeah, from 1999 to 2004, and throughout which, I worked on websites, products, and logos. It was fun. I did a lot of different types of concepts.
W: What kind of design team?
M: Though in Frog there were industrial design, digital media design, and graphic design group, and the first year I was in the digital media design group, but then I floated around.
W: Is it popular there?
M: It’s not very popular. So the story behind that is I was more interested in learning and exposing myself to new things. The creative director told me in a meeting “if you don’t pick up one group, you are not going to move up and get promoted. There is no way to judge how good you are, because you are doing everything.” And I said “I don’t care !” I had chosen one group to stay, and contribute to every project. It was very smart of me to not align with one group out of my interest to do different things, vs being promoted if I was in one group. But after being at Frog for five years, we didn’t produce a lot of things, and a lot of it was very conceptual, and a lot of it was, er…you know, we work with these very small companies, and then they would run out of money, and they would not be made.
W: For industrial design?
M: Yeah, or even websites. Frog wasn’t making stuff as much when I was there. After I left Frog, the only thing produced was a children’s board game that I worked on. It’s just me and one engineer. So around the time we were working on that, I decided that, since it was very fun to do different types of projects, I really wanted to leave Frog, and after five years it was like “Ok, maybe it’s time for me to go.” I had a friend at Frog, whose classmate worked at APPLE in the industrial design group. At that time, I was also a DJ. Every month we would have party at a bar, and invite our friends, and everybody in San Francisco who was a designer. With us were Google, Frog, and Ideal.
W: But more young designers.
M: Yeah. So what happened was I started ending up meeting people at Apple through these DJ nights, and it was a lot nicer to meet people through that because, Apple is really the type of place where you have to kind of get along. There are a lot of people that are very skilled. But if you can’t have good personality, you are not gonna go through it. It’s probably better, if you have somebody who is not as skilled that can feel like work with them, they will probably hire them more than somebody who has a bad personality that has a lot of skill. 
W: It’s really interesting, because basically we think in Apple you should just have ideas.
M: Well, it also depends on if you can get along with other person. I know that because now I work at Apple. We see a lot of portfolios, and we see a lot of very skilled people. It’s better if we feel like we can work with you, and you are not as skilled, because you can learn that skill. I met a friend who was in the human interface group through this party, and I was talking to him. I said “I’m thinking about leaving Frog.” And he told me “we are looking for people in our group.” But I never had done interface design at all. I never did icons, none of that. He was like “you should talk to my manager. I think you might have a very good chance because of the way you think and the fact we get along. Just the way you think, you could learn all of the skills while you are on the job.” And then, I really wanted to leave Frog, so I said “Ok, let me just talk to Apple.” And at the time Apple was doing very well.
W: Sure, always.
M: The product at that time was out like the 17-inch PowerBook, the first one, the white iPod with the touch controls and the red light. So what happened was I ended up talking to the manager at Apple in the human interface group. I didn’t even have an Apple computer. So it was like “Ok, we’ll give you a computer to use, so you can look at OS X.” I never really thought of working on operating system or anything like that. He was asking me “I think we should take you for an interview at Cupertino.” You don’t talk to twenty people, like it’s very rigorous interview. And he just was asking me “Is there something you want to do? Let me know, I’ll try it.” We scheduled an interview for Cupertino. I went there, taking my portfolio with me, which showing my working on a lot of stuff for Hewlett-Packard, mostly industrial design stuff at Frog. There was a study at Frog we are looking at the power buttons on our products and trying to come up with design language.
W: Ok, kind of interface.
M: Yeah, but ID interface. So I brought that stuff, and also the board game, because I feel it is kind of interface too.
W: For the child.
M: Yeah. The vice president of software development interviewed me. It just so happened that his daughter’s favorite game is the one that I did.
W: Oh, really? So it sells very well in the United States, right?
M: Yeah. So since I already had a friend in the team, it went well and it was funny. I remember before I was leaving from the interview, one of the guys said some top secret stuff, and then my friend was like “Hey, Freddy doesn’t work here yet.” And then I knew that it must be very comfortable for them to say this. So I thought “good.” But also I was very scared because I never done this kind of work before. Then I got hired, and left Frog. February 23rd, 2004 was my first day at Apple. And they told me “Since you are coming from industrial design background, we have a project that we would want you to be working on.” It was the orange calculator in Dashboard. It makes sense for me. It was kind of a nice transition from what I used to do in industrial design, to industrial design for screen.
W: A little different.
M: It’s not a physical thing, but it looks like a physical thing. It was my first project at Apple. It was me and another colleague of mine. What happened was when that was released, a lot of those widgets were able to translate over to the phone, the cell phone. If you really look at the phone, like the weather widget on iPhone, it’s very similar to the one in Dashboard.
W: Yes, that’s true.
M: a lot of the foundation for the iPhone is really based on the things we did in dashboard. now working on iPhone, and working on OS X, the same kind of thing I think about industrial design, is materials, plastic, or whatever metal,all could be drawn on a software. And sometimes I like looking at real things and seeing how would I draw this in 2D.
W: So you use iPhone right now, as part of work.
M: Yeah, sure. Like here, this looks like a real product. Somebody, typically in a company where the interaction designers and the industrial designers don’t work together, doesn’t think about how to integrate. What I did was I’m integrating it into the entire product. If you look here, it’s like the screen, and this is one thing, but typically interaction designer would look them separate, and it would look like there is a calculator inside the product. The interesting thing about that is that you can do this kind of stuff. It still looks like one product, and it’s like a hardware software integration. You could make these buttons out of plastic, and you could also make a calculator that looks like this, but this is just pixels. Even if you look at the way that, see, how is it like the process, and it really looks like it’s pushing down, but all that is a shadow.
W: You think it’s still industrial design?
M: I really do. I think this is the evolution of industrial design.
W: Ok, there comes my question! Because, in China, there are many interaction designers from industrial design background, the same as you. So the connection is just like you mentioned, you can combine software and hardware together?
M: Yeah. Industrial designers use a lot of 3D programs. If you just take the front shot of a 3D model, that’s a widget. It’s using the same tools. It’s just that the result is not a real thing. It’s a software thing. It’s a different result, but it’s the same kind of thinking that goes into it.
W: Yes, the design thinking, actually the same, in graphic design.
M: Yeah, everything. I do a lot of flyers, posters, and logos, and so on, just like the record sleeves I made as a DJ and stuff like that. If you understand how to subdivide a space, a page, you can use that to subdivide everything on the iPhone, and the OS X, or a poster. It’s all like kind of gridded out, if you understand that principle of the grid and subdividing things, that’s information poster, industrial design. And it’s like one of the things that goes across every discipline, and I feel like a real designer should know that because it translates across everything.
W: Because you talked about your DJ, I mean, when you do interaction design, do you think about sound? Because I think there is a connection.
M: I think the sound is not thought of as much as it should. Interaction design relies a lot on sound now. When I worked on this, see that clicking sound? That sound, gives you just enough feedback to know that you are pressing it even though it’s not a real physical thing.
W: Not only is a feedback, it’s kind of memory, I like that.
M: Yeah, because you hear that kind of pattern. I think interaction design will rely more on sound.
W: Why you think that people didn’t use sound much?
M: I think sound is kind of the last thing people think about in design, because it’s not taught. If there was a sound design course, that would be great, to incorporate that in the curriculum so that people are aware that you have to think about that, especially with like touch screens and stuff like that.
W: You didn’t have sound design in Carnegie Mellon?
M: No. I feel like part of my talk is going to be about how important to have interest outside of design. No one talks about that. Every time you go to a conference, it’s like “Oh, yeah, the design discipline should be talking together, we should have more interdisciplinary dialogue.” But it’s just talking. I would love to see a presentation where somebody is talking about something completely outside design, and see how it influences my mind. It’s very important for design to continue to involve, and it’s important for everyone to not be afraid to infuse their own interest in it, otherwise you will just have kind of robots doing, the same thing. One thing I also want to express in this talk is that it’s very important from a culture’s perspective to see how you can incorporate things in your upbringing into the design process. Because typically, design is thought as a very European discipline, but I’m very interested in what is the Chinese way, or, I’m Pilipino, what is the Pilipino way, and how do you incorporate. It’s just being proud where you are coming from. And no one really talks about that.
W: Since you talked about the team skills, what do you think is the most important for designers to work in a team? I asked this question because I always hear about that you must be a good team player in a team.
M: It depends on the project. Sometimes a project can be only really done by one person. The iPhone, it can’t be done by one person. It’s I think twelve to fifteen, or something. One thing you risk having too many people is that there isn’t a pure vision. If it’s like a big project with a lot of different components, then the group I think it’s very important that each individual person on the team feel like they have ownership of something and also the ability to critique everyone else. I think that’s the best way to work, because you don’t want to feel like you are not responsible for something, and you don’t want to feel like you can’t have any input on somebody else.
W: true, especially in a team.
M: It also depends on how much control you want to have on something. For instance, you are working in a team, and there may be some people on the team that are more reactive, who need to take direction from someone, vs, if you have a team where everybody is proactive, and they need to have their own thing. It also depends on being sensitive to the personalities of the team, because sometimes you may have a group of three people working on design project, and there is one person who is definitely the leader, and other two are, completely fine with being told what to do. Other times you may have personalities all the same, or sometimes all three are running around. It really depends on what the mix of people is.
W: I hear about there is kind of a guidebook to make interface design, right? Like you must make it like Apple style, and how big it is and what color it is.
M: Oh, yeah, there is a thing called The Human Interface Guidelines, which is used whenever we introduce a new platform, whether it’s iPhone or OS X. It gets written by somebody at Apple, they basically write a safeguard line, so that people who are developing applications for the computer or for the phone realize how to do it in an Apple style.
W: So it is for engineers, not for designers, right?
M: It’s mostly for engineers, and designers can benefit from it too. But the designers don’t really consider the guidelines as much. I mean we all know what they are, but that doesn’t constrain us from coming up with new things.
W: Yeah, good point. Now many people are using iPhone already in Chinese mainland, so I think there are many people who really want to know what pushes you to make design system like iPhone like kind of innovation in how to use mobile phone.
M: In general, I think Apple tries to come up with new things all the time.
W: What do these ideas come from? The design center?
M: Yeah, Apple kind of allowing designers to come up with the ideas. I think the designer’s role when it comes to new technology is not to make people afraid of it. The designer is really the spokesperson for everyday people, because new technology is made by engineers and very smart people, and sometimes those people want to see all the complicated switches, everything. They want to see “I can do that!” But you and me, we don’t need. So I think a designer’s role is how to really understand what are the most important things that people care about, and how do you simplify that complexity and maybe present it to everyone in a sequence that they can understand. One of the critiques I have of today’s talks is that it’s funny there were some talks that were very abstract and very complicated.
W: I know, because I fall asleep too.
M: Interaction design is supposed to take very complex things and make it simple for people to understand, but it is funny that you have people speaking about stuff that I don’t understand. So I felt a lot of the talks today were for the other speakers, you know, vs the students.
W: Yeah, it’s for professors or researchers.
M: It’s a lot easier to do a talk that is based on what you know, and how you know and how to say it. When I speak, I’m really trying to speak for the students, because I’m only ten years out away from where they are.
W: Yeah, since you have talked about you didn’t care about being promoted.
M: Yeah, I would just care about what I was interested in and how I could do things that I liked, because I wanna be spending my life enjoying what I do. Playing by the rules is very easy. But I wanted to play by the rules in a way that also challenges me. I remember my last year of school I lived in a house with all graphic designers, and it was a very conscious decision for me to do that, because I wanted to be exposed to the way that they worked, which maybe will influence what I did. I want to be around people that are different. I think it’s that intent of wanting to learn more, or I always find it interesting to see is there a way you incorporate something in your work that is not the typical way, the stereotyped typical way. This talk I’m going to give on Sunday will show a lot of examples that aren’t design-related.
W: Not just design?
M: No, outside of design. It’s about how I studied industrial design and how I ended up here. It’s very unlikely you would think how all that happened. At the time when I was going through it, there was never a path. You can only see a path when you look back. I didn’t know when I was in Carnegie Mellon that I was going to be working on iPhone, because there was no iPhone. And also I didn’t know I was going to be speaking in Beijing, based on interaction design, because I really don’t consider myself an interaction designer.
W: Even now? What do you think you are?
M: I’m just creative problem solver. I don’t even like to say designer in a way, because it already has too many loaded definitions. I think of it as solving problems creatively, and the result could be a poster, a product, or a website. I think if you call yourself an industrial designer, that automatically the result of what you are gonna be doing is an object, and I don’t like that constraint on myself, because I feel that it’s so boring to me. I like to challenge myself and see how can industrial design be graphic, how can you make a product graphic. You know in industrial design there is a saying that forms follow function? I feel like now with the iPhone, and things like that, it’s like forms follow information, because information is like the new function.
W: Yeah, we used to say forms follow function, but here you use information.
M: Yeah, so do you have a paper? I want to draw something. So there are a lot of physical objects that do that forms follow information, exemplify that statement. So there is a Dutch company, they made this. It’s a calendar, but they had each side flat, and on this part, it’s like clock face, but there is no numbers, and so here it would say like Tokyo on one side, and maybe, another country, Philippines or whatever, but the way it works is that if you take the object and place it on a flat, the one that is showing at the top, and you look there that’s the time. You see, and so you are turning it, it’s an object, but you are getting information. I like that. See that’s a clever way to show information by your interacting with it in a physical way. The project was to create a world clock, and the result is an object that you turn. Those are kind of things I like, when somebody has created something but it’s inspired by something that you wouldn’t think it’s from.
W: I think that is why iPhone is combing those.
M: That’s why I like. I can’t talk about any Apple secrets, but I’m showing this. I’m glad you get that. You know the wheels of time? I worked on that. Anything that looks like a product, so that wheels is kind of like I remember going to Las Vegas and seeing the jackpot, and I ‘wow, that could be a great idea for changing numbers.’ And then, I mocked it up and we did it, but who would think to look at that?
W: But I like the one that changes. And it feels like you change it.
M: Yeah, it’s more physical. Here it’s like the idea is how you make something very ordinary fun. You could just like rolling that wheel. It doesn’t mean anything, but you like doing it. we don’t know where these things come from, it’s just be open to seeing, just being very sensitive to seeing everything, and ‘oh, wow, we could use that for that.’
W: I’ve heard that you were like handing around in the university.
M: Yeah, I don’t get much sleep. We had a dinner in the first night. After the dinner, they all went to sleep. But I wanted to see where and who I’m going to do this talk for. I don’t want to be the type of person that flies all the way out here just to read my thing and go home. I wanted to feel like what it feels like to be a student here, what they would want. Why would I want to give a talk that has nothing to do with where I am or who I’m giving it to? I like hanging out with students more than other speakers.
W: I found it, even in that buffet.
M: Yeah. I like being invited to these conferences, but I don’t like hanging out with the other speakers. I feel like I’m more of a benefit to students.
W: Ok, do you think iPhone is more to young people?
M: I would say that younger people are more willing to embrace new stuff. I think that you can make new technology not scary to people. For instance, that calculator is like you’ve seen that before. But I’m using a touch screen, so another thing I want to talk about is how you can use technology, but it’s your translating the familiar. That’s what it is, like the WACOM tablet.
W: You use the pen, drawing.
M: Yeah, it’s like how do you translate something that is very natural in a digital way. I think it’s designer’s role to retain that natural way of doing it, because if you don’t, that’s gone, especially for generations now who don’t draw. If grid and subdividing is across, drawing is also across everything, because you need to know how to communicate your ideas very quickly to other people, and then at the end you go into Photoshop, or whatever.
W: Forget about the conference, but what do you think about China, about Beijing, about this University?
M: I have a lot of thoughts about China. I am very curious about how the culture influences the creativity here, because my feeling is that they don’t let you do a lot of things here.
W: You already have this feeling in two days?
M: Yeah, there are a lot of things that are shut out for people. And you know there are two ways that people can react: one could be vey like not creative, or two they could be more creative. So I’m very curious as to how that is affecting, because I can keep doing this talk and say “Oh yeah, do whatever you want!” But maybe it’s not possible. I feel like I’m very curious about how that sensibility in the government and the culture here may affect the way that creativity is in design school. And I don’t know if that has to do with me just being overly sensitive about stuff, but I think that’s the only way to really design and come up with things, to really understand like who is it for and where are you. Like this talk, if I were to do this talk somewhere else like in Germany, it would be very different I think. So it’s very specialized here. I want to remember the moment of doing it, like “Oh yeah, I added this part to my talk because it was more important to talk about that in China.” And I would only know that based on spending time with the students, and being here, and seeing like what’s going on. And I think that kind of sensibility creates better things. It’s not about just making money, this stuff.
W: Maybe tomorrow you can just hang around in the city; there are many you can see.
M: Yeah. Maybe in tomorrow night, hang out in the city and see stuff. Yesterday, I went to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. That was fun. I learned a lot. There is a lot history here. There seems to be a lot of constraints in what you can think about here, and I’m curious about how that affects creativity, but I’m also curious about how history is such an important part of culture. And maybe, I’m just making a guess, it may be more challenging to do something more futuristic, because of so much history. When I see Tiananmen Square, and then I see National Theater next to each other, I feel it’s cool. It’s like a reaction against that in a way.
W: Yeah, someone think that. Do you like the theater?
M: I mean I haven’t seen enough of it. I think that the Chinese people are using that to their management by creating stuff like this. I’m very curious about how China creatively is affected by the culture. At last, I though the thing that I’m most concerned about with this talk is that the students understand what I’m saying. Because I see everyone I just kept feeling that they need somebody like say “Yeah”, say like “Good”, “It’s ok to be in the program!”
W: I think that’s partly because of the culture, we have this kind of students not speaking to the teacher. And I think the education here is a little problem. Thank you so much today!


  • eugeo
  • 2011-06-12 23:31:26

Thanks for this! Really interesting point of view of the design discipline. Greetings from Argentina :)

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