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Why Apple Trains Employees to Work Like Picasso

At Apple University--the company's internal training program--new employees take a crash course in Picasso. Here's why.

If some of Apple's elegantly designed products look more like works of art than high-tech gadgets, there's a reason for that: The company takes its design cues from Pablo Picasso.

In Apple's internal training program, known as Apple University, the company preaches the same design lessons used by Picasso to create some of the most iconic and recognizable images in the history of art. One of the key concepts involves eliminating unnecessary details and boiling ideas down to only the most essential elements, as Picasso did in many of his most famous paintings.

Among the courses at Apple University is a class taught by Randy Nelson, who previously trained employees in design at Pixar Animation Studios. Nelson's course focuses on clear communication, both within the company and as it pertains to designing products to be intuitive for customers. As The New York Times reports:

In a version of the class taught last year, Mr. Nelson showed a slide of "The Bull," a series of 11 lithographs of a bull that Picasso created over about a month, starting in late 1945. In the early stages, the bull has a snout, shoulder shanks and hooves, but over the iterations, those details vanish. The last image is a curvy stick figure that is still unmistakably a bull.

"You go through more iterations until you can simply deliver your message in a very concise way, and that is true to the Apple brand and everything we do," recalled one person who took the course.

An example of this design in practice can be found in the Apple TV remote control, which, as Nelson points out in the training program, has just three buttons. He compares the design to that of the Google TV remote, which has 78 buttons.

None of the classes at Apple University are mandatory, but new Apple employees rarely opt out. Some of the full-time faculty come from universities like Harvard, Yale, M.I.T., and Stanford.

Steve Jobs created the program in 2008 and hand-picked Joel Podolny, then the dean of Yale School of Management, to run it. He continues to lead Apple University today.

The lesson for designers--and entrepreneurs in general--goes beyond keeping things simple and stripping away unnecessary details. Perhaps the best way to inspire customers is to treat your products like works of art.

 

 

 

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IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Aug 11, 2014

GRAHAM WINFREY

Graham Winfrey is a staff writer for Inc.com. He previously covered alternative investments at Private Equity International magazine, prior to which he worked at Business Insider and MSNBC.com. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.




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