Core Intuition 259 transcript

Daniel and I covered a few topics on Core Intuition 259 yesterday, but the closing segment about the Apple design book — and indirectly, the election — was particularly interesting to me. I decided to transcribe part of the conversation. Here it is, lightly edited.

Daniel:

Alright Manton, I know what a fan you are of lavish Apple products designed for the rich. [laughter] I know therefore you have probably already placed a pre-order for the Apple Book Edition.

Manton:

Is the Edition the $300 one?

Daniel:

Yeah, the $300 one is the Edition. The $200 one is the Edition Lite. [more laughter]

Manton:

So Apple announced this book yesterday, and I believe orders are being accepted today. It’s just this very beautiful, well-produced “we worked 8 years on this” book of essentially product photos.

And I think there’s an introduction with Jony Ive. There’s a video from him that is a classic Jony Ive video about a product.

I’ve blogged about this a little bit, and actually talked about this on my microcast, Timetable. Red flags are going off for me with this product for a few reasons.

The first is, we’re a week out from the election. A lot of us are bummed out and trying to make sense of the world, and Apple releases a book of product photos. It seems out of touch. I don’t understand why they did this right now.

And the other thing, I just hit on something that bothered me about this book. I have a lot of books in this house. Bookshelves and bookshelves full of books. My wife hates the fact that I have every book that I’ve ever bought. I have a lot of books and I have a lot of art books. In a previous life I wanted to an artist, an animator. I have a lot of art books.

And so this is right up my alley, right? I love old stuff. I love art books. Why don’t I want to buy this?

And I think the reason is, unlike most art books, which are about… They’re about the artist as much as the art. And this book is just photos of iMacs.

This isn’t about the designers. And maybe there’s something in the book that I’m missing. That when I hold it I’ll say, “Oh, this book is amazing.” But I feel like this book is not quite right. It’s not about the designers.

I want to know about the designers at Apple, and why they made their choices. I don’t need this well-lit photo of the inside of a Mac Mini. There’s something missing with what they’ve done here.

Daniel:

You know, I agree with you. What you said just now is interesting to me in a few different ways. One of them is — and I know people are going to think I’m crazy for even imagining that this could possibly happen in the wake of a U.S. presidential election — but one of my instincts the day after the election, believe it or not, was actually going to Apple.com to see if Apple had some kind of commemoration or acknowledgement.

And I realized… That’s my passionate, emotional side. Because Apple has been that company on so many issues of national or global importance.

And I get it. Even if I see it as a catastrophic thing for the country and for the world, I get it that it is seen as a partisan issue, and that a lot of people would agree it would be not only poor business, but maybe poor taste to take a stand on Apple.com.

But that’s the kind of feeling I’ve had from this company over the years. I wasn’t surprised not to see something there, but that sensitivity to the current state of affairs in the world, while maybe not driving them to put something on their home page overtly in support of one direction or another… I can see how they could maybe have made an effort to come up with something that somehow spoke to the issue without taking a side. They could have done that.

And I’m not faulting them for not doing that. But your comment about the possible poor timing of releasing this right after the election, it drives it home for me that doing something like that with the home page would have reflected a level of consciousness about what’s going on — their being sympathetic or even empathic to the situation.

Releasing a self-gratifying, expensive art book certainly does not speak to sensitivity about the national and global implications of the election. Nor should it have to. But by doing it the very week of the election, it does sort of tip the sales toward insensitivity.

Manton:

Right. So we had the election. A lot of people are trying to make sense of it. Like you said, you went to Apple. “Is Apple going to say anything?” Reload, reload. No, they’re not going to say anything. “Is Apple going to say anything next week?”

The first thing they said, not about the election but the first thing they publicly said was, “We have this beautiful book.”

Yes, they didn’t mean it that way. They didn’t mean it as a reaction to the election. They’ve had this thing planned for years. But it doesn’t feel right.

I don’t want to take away anything from the designers at Apple and the people that worked on this book, because they do great work. The products in this book are amazing. They do deserve to be celebrated and talked about. But the timing does not feel right.

And like I said before, I think the substance of this book is also wrong. I want to be careful not to criticize too much, because I’m sensitive to this. I don’t want to just bash this book. It doesn’t feel like the book we need about design at Apple. Because there’s no text in it!

It celebrates objects and machines but it doesn’t celebrate people. The people are one of the most important things about design at Apple. It doesn’t seem right.

I had never thought after the election, “What would Apple say? Would they put something on their web site?” I hadn’t thought of that until you just mentioned it.

Tim Cook did send a letter to Apple employees, an email. It wasn’t really partisan, but it was kind of saying, “We know some of y’all are having trouble.”

I don’t know how he phrased it. But the sense of it was, “We’re moving forward together. We’re going to be together. That’s how we get through everything as a company.”

That was private to Apple employees. They didn’t say anything publicly. To say something publicly would have been difficult. This is kind of a cheat, but I’m just going to say it: it would have taken courage to say something about the election publicly. I’m using that word very deliberately.

Come on, Apple. Forget about the stupid headphone jack. If you want to be courageous, take a stand on something you believe in. Do it.