Alan Dye

Leonardo Da Vinci is the original master of combining art and technology through wild creativity - an artist and inventor whose incredible work is currently on display in the Science Museum of Virginia's "Da Vinci Alive" exhibit. It was only fitting that an event to celebrate the Virginia Commission of the Arts' 50th anniversary was held at the museum - a reception in the exhibit where attendees could view the masterful creations of Da Vinci before the evening's main event: a conversation on design between Apple's VP of User Interface design, Alan Dye, and the Da Vinci Center at Virginia Commonwealth University's Innovator in Residence, Vida Williams.


Vida, our moderator for the evening, grounded the evening's topic of discussion by asking Alan to define good design. For Alan, and Apple at large, good design is something working in such a way that you can't imagine it working any other way. The company, and its design teams, work hard at thinking about design, not just in terms of aesthetics, but also in terms of ergonomics. In order to do that well, design - and the creative thinking behind it - has to be integrated throughout an organization's teams at a foundational level. For Alan, AirPods are a defining example of cross-team design success. The elegant design solutions seen in something like the AirPods' charging case require close work between the design team and the engineers and scientists. "We do our best work when we do it together." Alan said.

Create a culture of design

Facilitating good design requires mindful curation of a design culture and creative mindset within an organization, which is largely where Alan focuses his time as the VP of User Interface design. "The creative mindset exists in everyone and requires flexibility, empathy, debate, fostering the team of the right people in the right mindset willing to have tough conversations." Alan said.

This culture and space creates an environment where creative thinking flourishes through people feeding off one another. Apple's new campus is especially reflective of this intent by creating these intentional shared spaces where its employees can socialize with each other outside of their core project teams, discussing thoughts and ideas over a meal. Alan attributes some of their best ideas coming from coworkers outside of their projects.

When asked about how to move products into the global conversation, Alan gave mention to Apple's emphasis on inclusive design and accessibility, that spending time gaining context and understanding of other cultures is key when understanding how to design for a global audience. He also believes that diversity seen throughout our audiences should also be reflected in the composition of our design teams - "The more diverse our teams, the better the work."

Grow and sustain creative thinking

Sustaining this trajectory of innovation is something that many in the tech industry have been thinking about, and for Alan, a person's creative mindset is critical to the industry's success. "It's how you show up and are able to be flexible willing to collaborate deeply. Real collaboration is hard. For future success, we need creative thinkers who are thirsty, curious, open to debate, understanding of the gestalt and minutiae."

Establishing this mindset begins from an early age, and injecting creative opportunities into our education pipeline is a priority that Apple and the Commission share, and the benefits of such programs are already beginning to benefit our communities.

"There was a time when integration with creative thinkers into society was more surface level. Now it's more and more an integral part of how the world works. Creative thinking is being recognized as a way to make the world better," said Alan.