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I’ve always valued well-designed products. And I love the product even more if it actually works. Yet designers and engineers have always remained separate in my mind. First you design something, and then you get an engineer to work their magic and make it happen.

I came across two fascinating articles via The Gruber this weekend—Why Apple doesn’t do “Concept Products” and Divide—that countered my notion of design work being separate from engineering.

Let’s look at a company known for their design: Apple.

Products get worked on in parallel by all departments at once—design, hardware, software—in endless rounds of interdisciplinary design reviews. Managers elsewhere boast about how little time they waste in meetings; Apple is big on them and proud of it. “The historical way of developing products just doesn’t work when you’re as ambitious as we are,” says Ive, an affable, bearlike Brit. “When the challenges are that complex, you have to develop a product in a more collaborative, integrated way.”

A good designer realizes that well-designed products are limited by engineering restraints. If one was to simply design a product with no technological limits, we’d all have flying cars and holographic televisions.

Pretenders don’t quite understand that design is born of constraints. Real-life constraints, be they tangible or cognitive: Battery-life impacts every other aspect of the iPhone design — hardware and software alike. Screen resolution affects font, icon and UI design. The thickness of a fingertip limits direct, gestural manipulation of on-screen objects. Lack of a physical keyboard and WIMP controls create an unfamiliar mental map of the device. The iPhone design is a bet that solutions to constraints like these can be seamlessly molded into a unified product that will sell. Not a concept. Not a vision. A product that sells.

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